Archives: June 2010
EL SALVADOR: Tragic bus massacre
Monday, June 21, 2010
Bus massacre shocks El Salvador
All of El Salvador was shocked today as the country's violence took a horrifying turn. Sunday night in Mejicanos, a suburb of San Salvador, gang members shot at a micro-bus of Route 47, then doused it with gasoline and set it on fire. Fourteen people were burned to death in the bus.
The attack attracted press coverage world-wide. From National Public Radio:
"This is an act that seeks to generate terror among the population," President Mauricio Funes said, adding that his security Cabinet was to meet to increase security in the country...
The attack took place in a gang-plagued part of the municipality of Mejicanos, just outside San Salvador, National Police Commissioner Carlos Ascencio said. At least 14 people were killed, he said.
Moments later, gang members opened fire on another bus in the same neighborhood, killing two people.
Ascencio said Monday night that eight suspects had been arrested in the bus burning, including one who was detained minutes after the attack and smelled of gasoline. Among the detained were a woman and two minors.
Earlier, Funes said seven suspects had been detained, most accused of being members of the Mara 18 street gang.
Justice Minister Manuel Melgar called the attack "a typical terrorist act," but said the motive was under investigation.
At least 217 drivers and other employees of El Salvador's public transport industry have been killed over the last year and a half in suspected gang attacks, said Catalino Miranda, president of the national federation of transport workers and businessmen. Most victims were shot to death.
How do you react to something like this? Go numb? Cry? Pray for the victims and their families? Scream in rage? Demand vengeance? Huddle in fear? Call for more troops in the streets? I have no answers. More...
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Judge Faircloth Change of Heart?
Judge Faircloth Change of Heart?
Michael Walli Released from Jail!
Today, only three days after he was sentenced to six months of federal prison for carrying the protest against the School of the Americas onto Fort Benning, Michael Walli was released from jail.
Early Thursday, Michael was ordered to pack up his belongings from his jail cell. He expected that he would be transferred to a federal facility but was then told by the wardens that he is free to go, without any further explanation.
From the jail, Michael managed to get to Father Roy Bourgeois' apartment at the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia. The two celebrated his release and Michael is now on a bus headed to his home in Washington, DC.
According to the Columbus Ledger Enquirer, U.S. Magistrate G. Mallon Faircloth, who had only days ago handed down the maximum sentence to Michael, reduced Michael's sentence to time served.
We are full of joy that Michael is out and that he will soon be reunited with the great folks at the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House in DC. At the same time, the human rights defenders Ken Hayes, Father Louis Vitale and Nancy Gwin, all of whom were arrested with Michael during the 2009 vigil at the SOA/WHINSEC, remain in federal prison where they serve their harsh prison sentences.
Please contact Judge G. Mallon Faircloth to commend him for doing the right thing in Michael Walli's case and to also demand the release of ALL Prisoners of Conscience that he incarcerated. There is no justification that our friends Nancy, Ken, and Louis are spending their days and nights in prison for speaking out against the SOA, while those responsible for the training of human rights abusers and for the use of torture manuals at the SOA have never even been investigated:
G. Mallon Faircloth
U.S. Magistrate Judge
Post Office Box 117
Columbus, GA 31902-0117
Terrie Smith - (706) 653-2942
Please also send messages of support to the Prisoners of Conscience who are still incarcerated in federal prisons across the United States and let them know that you are keeping up the work to close the School of the Americas and to change U.S. foreign policy! You can find their prison addresses here: http://soaw.org/about-us/pocs/150-articles/3421-write-to-the-soa-watch-prisoners-of-conscience
Consider engaging in nonviolent direct action:
Keep the pressure on! People who put their bodies on the line to speak in solidarity with the people of Latin America are crucial in the struggle to close the SOA/ WHINSEC.
Stand up for justice at the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia in November:
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Unanimous Supreme Court decision restores some basic rights to legal residents
We are pleased to report on a landmark Supreme Court decision that restores some basic rights to legal residents. On June 14th, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that immigrants who are present legally in the United States should not be automatically deported for minor drug offenses, but should be allowed to have an immigration judge look at other circumstances before being sentenced to permanent exile.
The Supreme Court decision dealt with the case of Jose Angel Carachuri-Rosendo, a permanent resident in the U.S. since 1983, who faced mandatory deportation for a second offense, possession of single tablet of a prescription drug. Under the 1996 immigration laws, permanent residents can be mandatorily deported for a host of offenses, including minor non-violent offenses, with little opportunity for a fair day in court.
Deportations have reached an all time high under the Obama administration and families and communities are being torn apart daily. Breakthrough has been part of the movement to restore due process and human rights to our broken immigration system for the past five years and we welcome this Supreme Court decision as a positive step towards much needed immigration reform.
read the whole NY Times article below:
Justices Ease Deportation Rule in Minor Drug Cases
By ADAM LIPTAK
Published: June 14, 2010
WASHINGTON — Immigrants who are legally in the United States need not be automatically deported for minor drug offenses, the Supreme Court ruled Monday in a unanimous decision.
Lower courts had said that Jose Angel Carachuri-Rosendo, a permanent resident of the United States who had lived here since 1983, when he was 5, was subject to mandatory deportation for a second drug offense, this one involving possession of single tablet of a prescription drug.
The question in the case was whether that second offense amounted to an “aggravated felony.” If it did, the government had no choice but to deport him under the immigration laws. If it did not, the attorney general had the discretion to show leniency.
In 2004, Mr. Carachuri-Rosendo was sentenced by a Texas state court judge to 20 days in jail for possession of less than two ounces of marijuana. The next year, he was sentenced to 10 days in jail for having a single tablet of Xanax, an anti-anxiety drug, without a prescription.
Those were both misdemeanors under state law. But federal authorities argued that a second drug offense counted as an aggravated felony under federal law, making Mr. Carachuri-Rosendo ineligible for discretionary relief from deportation.
Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for seven justices, said the interactions of the various state and federal laws in the case required analysis of a “maze of statutory cross-references” and a 2006 decision, Lopez v. Gonzales, that rooted the definition of “aggravated felony” in federal law even when state offenses were involved.
At bottom, Justice Stevens wrote, “a 10-day sentence for the unauthorized possession of a trivial amount of a prescription drug” is at odds with the ordinary meaning of “aggravated felony,” even if federal prosecutors could, in theory, have sought a two-year sentence in federal court for the second drug offense.
“Carachuri-Rosendo, and others in his position, may now seek cancellation of removal and thereby avoid the harsh consequence of mandatory removal,” Justice Stevens wrote. But “any relief he may obtain depends upon the discretion of the attorney general.”
Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, in separate concurrences, voted with the majority but declined to adopt its reasoning in the case, Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder, No. 09-60.
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Detention Watch Network Demands "Dignity Not Detention" for Refugees and Asylum Seekers on World Refugee Day
Detention Watch Network Demands "Dignity Not Detention" for Refugees and Asylum Seekers on World Refugee Day
As we recognize World Refugee Day on June 20th, 2010 Detention Watch Network calls on President Obama to strengthen the United States' commitment to protecting and respecting the human rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants held in the U.S. detention system.
The United States estimates it will detain 400,000 people this year in immigration detention, including thousands of asylum seekers. Those detained involuntarily become part of a secretive web of more than 270 private, federal, state and local jails, and prisons that lacks enforceable standards of care and any independent oversight, at an annual cost of more than $1.7 billion to taxpayers.
Refugees and asylum seekers leave their country because they fear for their own life or safety or that of their family. Yet upon their arrival to the United States where they are seeking refuge under U.S. law, they are often held in prison- or jail-like settings in remote locations far from their families. They must wear prison uniforms, are regularly shackled during transport and in their hearings, and are held behind barbed wire. While detained, immigrants face horrific prison conditions, including mistreatment by guards, solitary confinement, the denial of medical attention and limited or no contact visitation with their families. In many cases, these conditions have proven fatal: since 2003, a reported 111 people have died in immigration custody.
One example is the case of "Omar," who has been held in an Arizona detention center for the last seven months. Omar and his family have been targeted by a majority clan in Somalia, including an incident where his sisters were raped and killed by militiamen at his family's shop in Mogadishu. Three days after his sisters were killed, his family home was attacked by the same militia and his mother was captured and beaten. Omar fled Somalia six days later and made his way to the United States, seeking asylum in December 2009. He was interviewed by an asylum officer who found he had a credible fear of return to Somalia. However, Omar was denied parole and has remained detained in Arizona for the last 7 months while he applies for asylum through the court system.
Under international law, the U.S. must enforce immigration law in a manner that ensures the right to due process, fair deportation procedures, freedom from arbitrary and inhumane detention, and other fundamental human rights. In violation of these basic human rights obligations, the U.S. subjects asylum seekers to mandatory detention with no access to a hearing to challenge their detention until they can establish a credible fear of persecution. Others, like Omar, routinely are denied release on parole pending their asylum hearings. The single most important factor affecting the outcome of an asylum seeker's case is whether he is represented by counsel. Yet immigrants in detention have no right to government-appointed counsel and may be held for a long time without legal representation.
For more information on the Dignity, Not Detention: Preserving Human Rights and Restoring Justice Campaign, visit www.dignitynotdetention.org
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Immigration Policy Update from National Immigration Forum
What's Happening with Immigration Reform?
Since the introduction of a "framework" for immigration reform at the end of April, there has not been much to report in terms of movement in Congress towards comprehensive immigration reform. In the Senate, no Republican has signed on to the effort, and the Democrats have not converted their "framework" into legislation. In the House, CIR ASAP has received more co-sponsors since its introduction in December (it now has 97), but no bill has been considered in Committee, and the House does not plan to move until a bill has been passed in the Senate.
Coming up in the Senate is consideration of a Supreme Court nominee. The Judiciary Committee will begin hearings at the end of the month. Also coming up are elections. We are in the midst of primary season, and this magnifies the shyness politicians have about doing anything that might be viewed by potential voters as controversial. Many Republicans have faced challenges to their right and, even if they had been inclined to support reasonable immigration reform in the past, they are running fast from those previous positions and saying instead that we need to "secure the border."
Meanwhile, there is a lively debate brewing in the advocacy community about what to do with legislation that has already been introduced targeting smaller populations for legalization-the DREAM Act and AgJOBS. In part, the viability of an effort to pass these bills will depend on what will be packaged with them. The DREAM Act or AgJOBs will still have to move through the same Senate and House, with their strong restrictionist contingents. What are the enforcement measures that restrictionists will demand in payment?
Obviously, any enforcement measures that come with legislation that would legalize a portion of the undocumented population will have a more severe impact on the remainder of that population than enforcement measures contained in legislation that would legalize most of the undocumented population.
Enforcement Amendments Thwarted on Supplemental Appropriations
Appropriations season is approaching, but we've already been treated to a teaser in the form of a supplemental appropriations bill that recently passed the Senate. The bill was drafted to provide funds for costs related to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Supplemental appropriations bills have a way of becoming loaded with various politicians pet projects.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is better known as a critic of the "pork-barrel" projects that get tacked on to "emergency" spending bills, but this year he is in a tough primary fight against immigration hardliner J.D. Hayworth, so he has a pet project of his own: border enforcement. He offered an amendment to have 6,000 National Guard troops deployed to the southern border. That amendment failed in a procedural vote requiring 60 votes (51 to 46).
Senator Jon Kyl, also from Arizona, attempted to tack on spending in the amount of $200 million to beef up Operation Streamline, a federal program that has focused federal prosecutorial resources on illegal border crossers with a consequent reduction in prosecutions of more serious crime. That amendment also lost on a procedural vote (54 to 44).
Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) completed the strikeout with an amendment that would have added more than a billion dollars to the tab for border and interior immigration enforcement personnel. This amendment also went down in a procedural vote (54 to 43).
These amendments were all defeated thanks to the good work of advocates in Washington and around the country.
On the positive side, the bill contains funding to cover the cost of USCIS work on Haitian TPS. The House has yet to pass its version of the spending bill.
USCIS Proposes Fee Increase
On June 11, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services published a Proposed Rule to adjust the schedule of fees for immigration benefits. After it completed its latest fee review earlier this year, USCIS proposed to increase fees, on average approximately 10%. Some fees will go up much more, and some fees will be decreased.
Since the last fee increase in 2007, USCIS has heard from many advocates expressing concern that the fee for an application for naturalization is set too high for some low-income immigrants and is discouraging immigrants from applying for citizenship. In the new proposed fee schedule, USCIS has decided to retain the current fee for naturalization ($595, though the cost of biometric services will be increased by $5 to $85). The fee for naturalization will remain the same despite the finding by USICS in its latest fee review that the cost to the agency for processing naturalization applications is $655. Had not the agency decided to keep the naturalization fee stable, the total cost to apply for naturalization, including the biometric fee, would have been $740. (Currently, it is $675.) The agency will make up the difference in recovering its costs by distributing that cost over other applications, adding approximately $8 to applications for other immigration benefits.
The public comment period for this proposed rule ends on July 26. You can submit a comment by going to http://www.regulations.gov and typing the DHS Docket Number "USCIS-2009-0033" in the search box.
Following are links to further information:
Proposed fee rule: http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/pdf/2010-13991.pdf
Press Release (USCIS): http://tinyurl.com/37szn3z
Fact Sheet (USCIS): http://tinyurl.com/2wmxsgx
Questions and Answers (USCIS): http://tinyurl.com/332sox8
Press Release (National Immigration Forum): http://tinyurl.com/3ajrcja
Refugee Act Gets a Hearing
The Refugee Protection Act of 2010, a bill introduced in the Senate by Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Carl Levin (D-MI), received a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 19. Among other things, the bill would eliminate the one-year waiting period before refugees and asylum seekers can apply for permanent residence. It would also attempt to fix a problem with current law where some refugees and asylum seekers are denied protection because of a broad interpretation of material support and terrorism bars. Certain vulnerable groups will be eligible for expedited adjudication as refugees.
The Refugee Council USA has information connected to the hearing on its Web site, including a link to the Judiciary Committee Web page about the hearing, witness testimony, and testimony submitted by advocacy groups submitted in support of the act. You can find it all on their Web site.
For Senator Leahy's press release upon introduction of the legislation, click here.
For the Forum's press release at introduction, click here.
June 20 is World Refugee Day, and there will be events in Washington on June 18th and 20th to celebrate.
The Department of Justice has not yet announced whether it will file a law suit against the State of Arizona to SB 1070 from taking effect. Meanwhile, a number of other lawsuits have been filed challenging the law. Friendly House v. Whiting, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the National Immigration Law Center on May 17 on behalf of several organizations and individuals, is a class action lawsuit alleging that SB 1070 is a usurpation of federal authority to enforce immigration laws. On April 29, another class action lawsuit was filed by the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders. More information on these and other lawsuits, including links to the complaints, can be found on the Web site of the Legal Action Center of the American Immigration Council.
Meanwhile, the number of local jurisdictions that have passed resolutions, launched boycotts, or taken some other action to oppose the Arizona law is growing. You can find a link to that list on this page of the Web site of Reform Immigration FOR America.
Administration weighs in against AZ worker verification law: In related news, a legal challenge to the Legal Arizona Workers Act, passed in 2007, has been making its way through the courts. The law requires all employers operating in Arizona to verify the work authorization of their workers using the federal government's E-Verify electronic work verification system or face penalties. In Chamber of Commerce v. Candelaria, Arizona businesses challenged the law, and last year the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Arizona law. Plaintiffs are seeking review before the Supreme Court, and the Court asked the Administration for its views. Last month, the Acting Solicitor General submitted a brief to the Court, in which the Administration argues that the Arizona law is pre-empted by federal law, and that the Court should hear the case.
The Administration's position in this case may be an indication that the Administration will soon intervene in the most recent Arizona anti-immigrant law.
If the Supreme Court decides to take up the case, it will do so in the next term, starting in October.
President sends National Guard to border: The President announced on May 25th that he would send up to 1,200 National Guard troops to the border. In this, the administration appeared to be bending to political pressure rather than reacting to facts on the ground. According to recent statistics and press reports (documented here), crime is down in Arizona and law enforcement in border communities say the border is more secure now that it has ever been. At the time the President made his announcement, Senators McCain and Kyl were trying to tack on an amendment to a spending bill (see above) to send 6,000 National Guard troops to the border.
The Forum's reaction to this development can be read here, and a release from America's Voice about this can be read here.
Announcement: Immigrant Integration Conference
The National Immigrant Integration Conference will be held in Boston, Massachusetts, September 29 to October 1, 2010. The conference will address, among other things, how immigrant integration is emerging as a national agenda; successful practices states and municipalities are implementing to respond to their changing demographics; and the implications of current federal government priorities for addressing immigrant integration and immigration reform.
More information about the conference, including agenda, accommodations, and registration information, go to the conference Web site:
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Human rights advocate sentenced to six months in federal prison for civil disobedience at the School of the Americas
June 14, 2010
for immediate release
Human rights advocate sentenced to six months in federal prison for civil disobedience at the School of the Americas
Washington, DC resident Michael Walli was one of four human rights advocates who were arrested during the annual November Vigil to close the School of the Americas / Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/ WHINSEC). Michael Walli was sentenced on Monday, June 14, 2010 to six months in federal prison.
During his November arraignment, Michael told judge Malon Faircloth that he would not pay any bail and that he would not voluntarily return for the trial. Michael Walli made good on his promise and Faircloth issued a warrant for Michael's arrest. Federal marshals arrested Michael in March 2010 at the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House in Washington, DC.
Ken Hayes, Father Louis Vitale and Nancy Gwin, the three human rights advocates who were arrested together with Michael Walli, were each sentenced in January 2010 to six months in prison as well - the maximum allowed for the charge of tresspass. The extremely harsh sentences are intended to deter others from following the example of the 'SOAW 4.'
"Those who speak out for justice are facing prison time while SOA-trained torturers and assassins are operating with impunity," said SOA Watch founder Father Roy Bourgeois.
The SOA/WHINSEC is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers. Its graduates are consistently involved in human rights atrocities and coups, including the El Mozote Massacre in El Salvador and last year's military coup in Honduras. In 1996 the Pentagon was forced to release training manuals used at the school that advocated the use of torture, extortion and execution.
SOA Watch works to stand in solidarity with people of Latin America, to change oppressive US foreign policy, and to close the SOA/WHINSEC. In November 2010, thousands will return to the gates of Fort Benning to call for justice and accountability.
Send a message of solidarity to the prisoners:
Make plans to join the November Vigil at the gates of Fort Benning:
School of the Americas Watch, www.SOAW.org
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Leaders of social movements from 18 countries of the Americas will meet in Venezuela
Leaders of social movements from 18 countries of the Americas will meet in Venezuela
Delegates from 18 countries from South, Central and North America will meet in Venezuela to share strategies to resist the increase in U.S. military intervention in the region, as well as strategies to close the infamous School of the Americas, which continues to train Latin American military. Among the delegates are educators, lawyers, priests, nuns and human rights activists.
Between June 21 and 25 in Sanare, leaders of social movements of Latin America, the United States and Canada will meet to discuss the implications of continued military intervention of the United States government in the region.
Among the issues to be considered is the United States military's use of seven Colombian military bases. This past March, more than 30 community organizations in Colombia, including the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective, presented a request before the Constitutional Court asking that they declare inexecutable the agreement of cooperation and technical assistance for defense and security, made between the governments of Colombia and the United States, given that the agreement "is contrary to the principles of separation of power and sovereignty."
Furthermore, there is worry about the possible installation of eleven naval bases in Panama, which were confirmed by the Panamanian Minister of Government and Justice, José Raúl Mulino, in the local newspaper La Prensa. In agreement with this concern, Julio Yao, a professor of international relations who will participate in the Encuentro in Venezuela, explained "the United States can request use [of the bases] by appealing the Salas-Becker Treaty."
Another issue to be considered is the implication for Latin American democracies of the coup d´etat in Honduras that took place on June 28, 2009. One of the leaders of the coup, General Romeo Vásquez, is a graduate of the School of the Americas. The Palmerola military base, used by U.S. military, served as a stopover in the flight that removed President Manuel Zelaya from his country. This was confirmed by U.S. State Department spokesperson Philip Crowley.
Among many notable leaders from the South who will attend the gathering are Bertha Oliva, Coordinator of the Committee of Family Members of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras; Alicia Lira, President of the Committee of Family Members of the Victims of Political Executions in Chile; the President of the Peace and Justice Service (SERPAJ) in Panama, Dr. Julio Yao; and from Argentina, Rina Bertaccinni, President of the Movement for Peace, Sovereignty and Solidarity among Peoples (Mopassol).
From the United States participants include John Lindsay-Poland, Latin America Director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation; Dale Sorensen, Director of the Marin Task Force on the Americas; Mara Bard, Argentine exile and activist with SOAW since 1990; and Laura Slattery, former military officer who now does non-violence training for activists who participate in the vigil to close the School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, Georgia.
This meeting of social movement leaders is being convened by the School of the Americas Watch, an organization that has worked since 1990 to close the School of the Americas and was founded by Fr. Roy Bourgeois.
"We have a lot of hope in this gathering, in coming together to work for peace, for the closing of the military bases and of the School of the Americas, things that do nothing positive for our people," expressed Rev. Bourgeois. He added, "the people of Latin America do not need military bases, nor coups nor graduates of the School of the Americas. The poor need hospitals, food, medicine, and this is what the United States should share with our brother-sister countries."
For more information in English contact:
Coordinadora para América Latina
School of the Americas Watch
Apartado Postal 437 Barquisimeto, Lara
On the Internet: www.soaw.org
For more information in Spanish contact:
(Chile) Celular: 97237530
On the Internet: http://www.soawlatina.org/prensa.html
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Nicaragua News Bulletin (June 8, 2010) from Nicanet
Nicaragua News Bulletin (June 8, 2010)
1. Succession in Supreme Court under discussion between Sandinistas and Liberals
2. Nicaragua suspends diplomatic relations with Israel
3. Marchers protest IMF demands for changes in Social Security
4. Russia “oxygenates” Nicaragua’s budget
5. Nicaragua officially in “La Nińa” weather phenomenon
6. “Foreign Minister” of FARC’s brother granted political asylum in Nicaragua
7. Ometepe named World Biosphere Reserve
8. Settlers in the Bosawas being removed “with respect”
1. Succession in Supreme Court under discussion between Sandinistas and Liberals
Justices of the Supreme Court, both Sandinistas and Liberals, were in talks last week in an effort to sort out the problems that have resulted from the failure of the National Assembly to appoint the successors to those justices whose terms have run out (or reappoint them to office). On June 11, the term of the President of the Court, Manuel Martinez, a Liberal, expires and if Martinez leaves the Court, Sandinista Justice Alba Luz Ramos will become the President of the Court. Martinez could remain on the Court under a January decree by President Daniel Ortega as have two of his Sandinista colleagues Rafael Solis and Armengol Cuadra. But members of opposition political parties have denounced as unconstitutional the decree, which said that the high level officials whose appointments were ending this year could remain in their posts until their replacements were named by the National Assembly. Martinez is definitely “entre la espada y la pared” (between the sword and the wall) or in English idiom, “between a rock and a hard place. But Solis said that talks were “advancing” adding that both Sandinistas and Liberals had agreed not to reveal to the media the progress in the conversations.
National Assembly Deputy Carlos Garcia of the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN) said that many things “are being cooked under the table” and predicted that within two weeks the 25 officials (Supreme Court Justices, Supreme Electoral Council magistrates and others) will be named. And, he said, “You’ll see that when Manuel Martinez’ term ends, the PLC [Constitutional Liberal Party] will have to recognize Armengol Cuadra and Rafael Solis [whom the opposition has been calling former Supreme Court Justices]” adding that the “pact” between the Sandinistas and the PLC was still in force.
Several political observers noted that with the addition of Conservative Party Deputy Alejandro Bolańos Davis and former Vice-President, now Deputy, Alfredo Gomez Urcuyo, the strategy of the PLC and the Nicaraguan Democratic Bench (BDN) of refusing to show up for National Assembly sessions resulting in a lack of a quorum will no longer work. In recent days the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance has, when added to the Sandinista deputies, provided enough attendance for a quorum, but with two added deputies attending, the count will not be in doubt. Sandinista Deputy Gustavo Porras said, “There are deputies who are committed to making the Assembly work. They have not committed themselves to vote with the Sandinistas…. They are Conservatives or Liberals or whatever but they are committed to working and that is what is important.” (La Prensa, June 1; El Nuevo Diario, June 1)
2. Nicaragua suspends diplomatic relations with Israel
After announcing it on June 2, Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Samuel Santos on June 4 officially informed Israel’s embassy in Costa Rica that President Daniel Ortega has suspended diplomatic relations over Israel’s attack on the Liberty Humanitarian Flotilla which was attempting to deliver aid to Gaza. The Israeli ambassador in Costa Rica is also ambassador to Nicaragua. The attack killed 9 people, wounded many more, and resulted in Israel taking prisoner the 680 activists from 42 countries attempting to bring cement, medical supplies and other humanitarian aid to the Palestinian territory in violation of Israel’s blockade. He said that consular relations would continue to serve the needs of Israelis in Nicaragua and Nicaraguans in Israel and that trade agreements would not be affected. Santos said that cutting off relations was intended to call the attention of other countries to the necessity “to take forceful actions, concrete actions” against Israel so that those kinds of attacks are not repeated.
Evangelical National Assembly Delegates Salvador Talavera Alaniz and Guillermo Osorno Molina criticized Ortega “for daring to break diplomatic relations with God’s chosen people.” They accused Ortega of being “against the Bible.” Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) Deputy Victor Hugo Tinoco condemned the Israeli attack but urged “prudence and caution for the good of Nicaragua.” Tinoco was vice foreign minister in the 1980s when Nicaragua also cut diplomatic relations with Israel. The National Assembly unanimously passed a resolution on June 2 of support for the Palestinian people and their right to live in peace. Palestinian Ambassador Mohamed Saadt praised the decision to suspend relations saying, “It reflects the character of this government that they understand our cause and our right to build a State.” (Radio La Primerisima, June 2, 4; El Nuevo Diario, June 3; La Prensa, June 4)
3. Marchers protest IMF demands for changes in Social Security
On June 3, thousands of people marched to defend the US$25 “solidarity payments” that the government has begun distributing monthly to over 100,000 government employees with salaries under US$260 per month and to protest changes that the International Monetary Fund wants Nicaragua to make in its Social Security system. The IMF in early May postponed a visit from an IMF mission over concern about several matters, among them the US$25 payments. Different sources said that the IMF wanted Nicaragua to raise the retirement age from age 60 to 65 or 70 years of age (depending on the source). Gustavo Porras (Sandinista deputy in the National Assembly, head of the National Workers’ Front, and one of the organizers of the march) said the IMF wanted to require workers to pay into the Social Security fund for 28 years to receive a pension, up from the current 14 years.
The opposition daily La Prensa said that government offices were closed and workers bussed in state-owned vehicles to the march and that schools were closed and teachers and high school students sent to the march, in what the newspaper called a “blatant misuse of public funds.”
Sandinista Deputy Walmaro Gutierrez, who is chair of the Budget and Economy Committee, said that previous neoliberal governments used the Social Security fund as a petty cash box and that the new law from the Ortega Administration attempts to strengthen it. He said, “We have to guarantee that the INSS [Social Security] is sustainable and at this moment everybody knows that the financial situation of the INSS is extremely weak. We have to strengthen the fund so that when you and I retire we have a dignified pension but it can’t be at the cost of raising the retirement age or reducing the pensions of current retirees.” He added that there are proposals in the new bill that will favor the workers and not be based on IMF mandates. (La Prensa, June 3; Radio La Primerisima, June 5)
4. Russia “oxygenates” Nicaragua’s budget
The Russian government will donate US$10 million in budget support funds along with other donations and loans according to an agreement signed between the two countries on June 2. Russian Vice-Minister of Foreign Relations Serguey Ryabkov announced that total Russian aid would amount to “several tens of millions of dollars.” Last year Russian aid totaled US$31 million. Among the agreements reached are that Aeroflot will begin in October twice weekly flights between Moscow and Managua with a stop in Cuba. Those flights have been suspended since the 1990 Sandinista electoral defeat. Their renewal opens a route to Europe and Asia that does not pass through the United States. The agreement also includes the donation for transportation cooperatives of 400 new buses, 150 of them for inter-urban routes, and 500 Lada automobiles. Russia will also construct a hospital in Managua, grant student scholarships, and give technical support for the Army. The oft discussed inter-oceanic canal was also on the agenda discussed by the two countries, but no commitments were made. Other agreements in the accord dealt with trade, telecommunications, fishing, and landmine removal.
President Daniel Ortega praised the accord contrasting it to aid from the European Union and United States that “has political conditions that don’t give the country assurance of that cooperation.” He said that the “breech of confidence” caused by the allegations of fraud in the 2008 municipal elections cost Nicaragua US$100 million in aid. It was announced last week that the so-called Budget Support Group, composed of several individual nations, the European Union, and financial institutions, which had supplied unrestricted support for Nicaragua’s national budget, has been dissolved. The individual countries and institutions will now make decisions about whether to provide the unrestricted assistance. (La Prensa, June 1, 2; Radio La Primavera, June 2; El Nuevo Diario, June 3)
5. Nicaragua officially in “La Nińa” weather phenomenon
According to Julio Oporta, a meteorologist with the governmental Institute for Territorial Studies (INETER), Nicaragua has officially entered into the “La Nińa” weather phenomenon. On June 7 the fifth tropical storm of the rainy season brought more rain to the country, watering recently planted crops but flooding Managua’s massive but always inadequate storm sewage system. Historic rainfall records for the first ten days of May were broken in Leon, Managua, Masatepe, Masaya, Nandaime, Rivas, Jinotega, Juigalpa, Puerto Cabezas and Bluefields. Managua received seven times its usual rainfall for the beginning of May.
The torrential rains of June 3 destroyed eight houses and damaged 385 in 47 neighborhoods of Managua according to Lt. Col. Mario Rivas of the Army’s Civil Defense unit. Leonel Teller, a Managua city councilman from the Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC), said, “All the water and sediment that comes down from the Sierras de Managua because of the indiscriminate logging up there in that zone should be controlled by small dams. But, on the contrary, we see what happened yesterday in twenty minutes of heavy rain. With the velocity that the water and sediment coming down, it’s dangerous.” He accused the city government of corruption saying, “They are stealing the taxes of the people of Managua and they didn’t invest any of the millions of cordobas in [needed] infrastructure.” (Radio La Primerisima, June 7; La Prensa, June 5; El Nuevo Diario, June 5)
6. “Foreign Minister” of FARC’s brother granted political asylum in Nicaragua
The brother of Rodrigo Granda, considered the “foreign minister” of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), announced that he would seek exile in Nicaragua. Ruben Dario Granda said that he chose Nicaragua because it is a “safe and democratic country.”
The date of his arrival in Nicaragua still depends on relations between Colombia and Nicaragua, Granda told the Sandinista station Radio Ya. He is currently taking refuge in the Nicaraguan embassy. He thanked President Daniel Ortega and Foreign Minister Samuel Santos for their “noble gesture” in granting him, his wife, and son asylum on June 4. Meanwhile, Colombia called the act “inadmissible,” claiming that the charges against him are common crimes rather than politically motivated offenses.
Granda is accused of having connections with FARC (Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia), including financing “terrorism and rebellion.” The Colombian government claims that in FARC leader Raul Reyes’ computer, which it obtained when the Colombian military attacked a base in Ecuador, there were emails referring to someone with the name “Perales” and they have concluded that this name refers to Granda. A Colombian judge, however, said that there was not sufficient evidence to back the accusation and released Granda after he was detained for three days by the authorities. INTERPOL investigators reported at the time that there were no emails on the computer allegedly belonging to Reyes, only Microsoft Word files.
According to Granda, there was an attempt made on his life in May. After a life in academia in Colombia (27 years as a professor and three published books), Granda and his family believe they will be safer in Nicaragua. (Radio La Primerisima, June 4; La Prensa, June 7)
7. Ometepe named World Biosphere Reserve
Ometepe, the world’s largest lake island, a double volcano in Colcibolca (Lake Nicaragua), has been recognized by the UN Education, Science, and Culture Organization (UNESCO) as a World Biosphere Reserve, one of thirteen new sites among 584 recognized in 109 countries. The inauguration ceremony will take place on the island on June 11. Its new status will allow greater legal protections for preserving the flora and fauna of the unique biosphere, increase tourism, and provide reforestation and environmentally compatible organic farming opportunities for the 30,000 inhabitants of the island. Ometepe Island and Lake Nicaragua are not only home to many rare fresh water species, the island also has a rich abundance of pre-Columbian petroglyphs dating to the dawn of civilization.
In a related story, the heavy rains of May 23 uncovered an indigenous burial ground on the island under a street in the community of Los Angeles according to Moises Ghitis, the head of the El Ciebo museum. The ceramic fragments unearthed are of a type made between 2,500 BCE to 300 CE. Bone fragments and funeral urns are also being uncovered in what could become an important archeological site. (Radio La Primerisima, June 2; El Nuevo Diario, June 3; La Prensa, June 6)
8. Settlers in the Bosawas are being removed “with respect”
The army is planning a second campaign to remove illegal settlers from the hard-pressed Bosawas Nature Preserve, home to the indigenous Mayagna people. Last week the army, with help from other agencies, removed 27 families comprising more than 170 individuals. [The previous week 27 families were removed.] Those evicted from settlements damaging the nature preserve were examined by medical personnel before being bused to their original municipalities. The doctors found that many suffered from pneumonia, diarrhea, influenza, and mountain leprosy. More than 90% of the children were vaccinated and treated for parasites. The majority of the families were taken to Mulukuku, Bonanza, Siuna and San Jose de Bocay. Some said they left the Preserve willingly; others said they were made to go and if they are not given help will return.
Vice-Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARENA) said that President Daniel Ortega has ordered that the illegal settlers be treated with respect and attempts first be made to persuade the as many as 1,500 still in the preserve to leave voluntarily. Those who were evicted last week will be “included within the property titling plans” in their home areas, according to Jose Luis Garcia, the Ombudsman for the Environment.
The Sandinista government pledged to guarantee the security of the Bosawas Nature Preserve and also that the very poorest people will have access to health, education and housing programs as part of the restitution of rights taken away by the neoliberal governments of the 1990s and 2000s. MARENA Minister Juanita Argeńal said that those who were removed are receiving assistance so they do not return to the preserve. The Attorney General’s office is also intervening against those who are recruiting people to move into the reserve. Several were charged with various related crimes last week. (Radio La Primerisima, June 4, 5, 7; La Prensa, June 1; El Nuevo Diario, June 1)
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101 trade unionists murdered worldwide in 2009, half of them in Colombia
According to this report, last year there were 101 assassinations of unionists worldwide, with almost over 88% of the victims from Latin America, with 48 in Colombia, 16 in Guatemala, 12 in Honduras, six Mexico, four in Brazil and three in the Dominican Republic. In the rest of the world, there were six killed in Bangladesh, three in the Philippines, and one each in Nigeria, India and Iraq.
Annual Report of the ITUC-CSI
101 trade unionists murdered worldwide in 2009, half of them in Colombia
"Colombia, 48 trade unionists killed, has returned to defend the country where the fundamental rights of workers means more likely than any other country, death sentence"
ITUC-CSI / Wednesday June 9, 2010
The CSI Annual Report on Trade Union Rights documents an impressive increase in the number of unionists killed in 2009: 101 deaths - 30% over the previous year. The report, published today, and reflects the growing pressure imposed on the fundamental rights of workers around the world due to the impact, deepening of the global economic crisis on employment.
Of the 101 victims, 48 were killed in Colombia, 16 in Guatemala, 12 in Honduras, six in Mexico, six in Bangladesh, four in Brazil, three in the Dominican Republic, three in the Philippines, one in India, one in Iraq and one in Nigeria. Twenty-two Colombian trade unionists were murdered union leaders, and five of them women, which keeps the connection in previous years. The escalation of violence in Guatemala and Honduras also continues a trend that has developed in recent years.
'Colombia has returned to defend the country where the fundamental rights of workers means more likely than any other country, death sentence, despite the PR campaign of the Colombian Government in the opposite direction. The worsening situation in Guatemala, Honduras and several other countries is also of extreme concern, "said Guy Ryder, ITUC General Secretary.
The report re-register this year a long list of violations suffered by trade unionists who are fighting to defend the interests of workers, on this occasion in 140 countries. Other violations are still not registered because working men and women are deprived of the means to make their voices heard, or prefer not to talk for fear of the consequences that could lead to their jobs or even their physical safety. Along with the overwhelming list of murders, the report provides detailed documentation of harassment, intimidation and other forms of anti-union.
It has also had news of another 10 attempted murders and 35 death threats, again mainly in Colombia and Guatemala. On the other hand, many union members remain in prison, and in 2009 they joined hundreds more. Many others were arrested in Iran, Honduras, Pakistan, South Korea, Turkey and Zimbabwe in particular. The general situation with regard to trade union rights continued to deteriorate in many countries, including Egypt, the Russian Federation, South Korea and Turkey.
Antidemocratic forces have continued to take as a target of their attacks union activity, mindful that unions tend to be in the front line in defending democracy. This was evident in Honduras, during episodes of violence that followed the coup, and in Guinea, during a protest against the junta in power that would lead to a terrible massacre on 28 September.
In each of the regions were documented numerous cases of repression of strikes and attacks on strikers.Thousands of workers who were demonstrating to demand their wages, denounce extreme working conditions or detrimental effects of global financial and economic crisis were the target of attacks, arrests and detentions, in countries such as Algeria, Argentina, Belarus, Burma , Côte d'Ivoire, Egypt, Honduras, India, Iran, Kenya, Nepal, Pakistan and Turkey. It has also been reported in many countries of dismissals of workers because of their union activities. In Bangladesh, six garment workers who were striking to demand a salary increase and payment of wage arrears were killed as a result of police action.
Employers continued to use pressure and actions to destroy unions. In several countries, several companies threatened the workers to close the plants if they chose to organize or join a union. Often, simply refused to negotiate with the legal representatives of workers, but the authorities hiciesen nothing. Some labor codes were amended to allow greater "flexibility" and to disrupt social security systems, which often have a major impact on the existing system of industrial relations and results in a reduction of trade union rights.
The weakening of internationally recognized labor standards has meant that more and more workers face the insecurity and vulnerability in employment: 50% of the global workforce has a job vulnerable. This affects the workers in EPZs, especially in Southeast Asia and Central America to domestic servants, especially in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, migrants and agricultural workers.
It is worth mentioning that women represent the majority of the workforce in these sectors. On the other hand, there is evidence of informal employment growth and development of new forms of "atypical" employment in both regions and in various industrial sectors. The difficulties encountered by these workers to get organized or to exercise their trade union rights are directly related to its vulnerable position in the labor market.
The report also highlights many cases where, even though trade union rights are officially protected by legislation, restrictions on legal coverage and enforcement is weak or nonexistent in addition to the vulnerability of workers struggling in the depths of the crisis. In many countries strikes are severely restricted or banned outright. In addition, complex procedures, the imposition of compulsory arbitration and the use of overly broad definitions of "essential services" makes the exercise of trade union rights is often impossible in practice, which deprives workers and workers of their legitimate right to have union representation and to participate in industrial action.
The ITUC report notes that 2009 marked the 60th Anniversary of ILO Convention 98 on the right of association and collective bargaining. Countries such as Canada, China, India, Iran, Korea, Mexico, Thailand, United States and Vietnam have not yet ratified it, which means that about half of the world's economically active population is not covered by the agreement.
"The ITUC report this year shows that most workers in the world still lack effective protection of their rights to organize unions and bargain collectively, an important factor in long-term increase in economic inequality within and between countries. Inadequate income for most of the world's workforce contributed to cause the global economic crisis and is making it much harder to put the economy on the path to sustainable growth, "said Ryder.
Read the full report:
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Visit Honduras, Colombia or Venezuela through the Alliance for Global Justice!
Visit Honduras, Colombia or Venezuela through the Alliance for Global Justice!
Human Rights Delegation to Honduras: Join Rights Action!
June 26-July 4, 2010
Cost: $750 (airfare not included)
For more information: Annie Bird, firstname.lastname@example.org, 1-202-680-3002, & Karen Spring, email@example.com
Food Sovereignty, Social Movements and Change: Join the delegation to Venezuela!
July 19-August 2, 2010
Cost: $1,100 (airfare not included)
For more information: Click here.
Eyewitness Investigation: Is the US Funding a War on Colombian Farmers? Join the Alliance for Global Justice's delegation to Colombia
August 1-11, 2010
Cost: $1,450 (scholarships may be available, airfare not included )
For more information: Contact James Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org or (520) 243-0381
Solidarity with the Continuing Resistance! Join the Witness for Peace Delegation to Honduras
August 10-18, 2010
Cost: $575 (airfare not included)
For more information: Contact Vera Leone at email@example.com or (706) 405-1273
for more information visit http://afgj.org/
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OAS agreed Monday to create high level group to decide on Honduras
OAS agreed Monday to create high level group to decide on Honduras
The Organization of American States, OAS, agreed Monday to create a high level group to assess conditions for the re-entry of suspended Honduras, announced Peruvian Foreign Affairs minister Jose Antonio García Belaúnde
“We have signed a resolution that must formally be reviewed Tuesday by the General Assembly referred to the creation of a group of high level experts, to be named by the Secretary General, to assess the political and juridical situation of Honduras”, said García Belaúnde, following a three-hour closed doors discussion with his peers that are currently meeting in Lima, Peru for the 40th General Assembly.
Honduras was suspended from OAS following a coup last June which ousted President Manuel Zelaya. Last November elections were held but several key countries such as Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela are not recognizing the government of Porfirio Lobo.
“The Commission will have time until July 31 to issue a recommendation that should help with a decision”, underlined the Peruvian official.
Deputy Secretary of State for Latinamerican Affaire, Arturo Valenzuela said it was “an excellent agreement; we support it; Honduras is complying with all the requirements for its re-admission to OAS”.
Patricia Espinosa, Mexico’s Foreign Affairs minister described the situation as “a positive step that OAS should again be involved in the Honduras situation so that we can find a way for its reincorporation to OAS”.
Earlier in the day US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appealed for the return of Honduras, saying the new government has met its reconciliation commitments.
“We saw the free and fair election of President Lobo,” said Hillary Clinton. “And we have watched President Lobo fulfil his obligations under the Tegucigalpa-San Jose accord, including forming a government of national reconciliation, and a truth commission. This has demonstrated a strong and consistent commitment to democratic governance and constitutional order.
Clinton drew support from among others, Guatemalan Foreign Minister Haroldo Rodas, who urged the prompt return of Honduras to the OAS along with creation of a high-level commission to verify its renewed democratic system.
But several other foreign ministers disagreed, among them Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patińo, who said his government condemns the mistreatment of Mr. Zelaya, whom he termed the ”legitimate“ president of Honduras.
”My government cannot recognize the new government in Honduras while there are violations committed against human rights,“ said Ricardo Patińo. ”And Zelaya has to be recognized in his true capacity, with guarantees in his country. And those who are responsible for the coup, those who broke human rights and democratic guarantees - they have to be punished for this“.
Mrs, Clinton also appealed for the urgent financial and political restructuring of OAS.
Clinton said the United States continues to support the Washington-based OAS as the foremost multi-lateral organization of the hemisphere.
But in a sharply-worded appeal to fellow OAS foreign ministers, she said the organization founded in 1948 is in urgent need of streamlining because of a ”proliferation of mandates.“
She said without a reform plan, hopefully in place by key budget meetings in September, the fiscal path of the OAS is ”unsustainable.”
The Secretary of State spoke in a general debate otherwise dominated by regional political issues.
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Nicaragua Suspends relations with Israel
Nicaragua suspends relations with Israel
Translation by Juan Fajardo of the official statement from
PRESS RELEASE NP-067-2010
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
The Government of National Unity and Reconciliation in Nicaragua,
condemns the criminal assault conducted by the Israeli Government
against the Freedom flotilla, composed of unarmed human rights activists
on their way to Gaza on a humanitarian mission to bring relief to the
Palestinian and Arab people living under the blockade of their territory.
The Government of Nicaragua emphasizes the illegality of the act
committed by Israel in international waters in violation of
International Law and International Humanitarian Law.
Also, Compańero Comandante Daniel Ortega Saavedra, President of the
Republic, on behalf of its People and Government wishes to express his
sympathy and deepest condolences to the families of the victims and the
governments of countries whose citizens have been killed, and makes a
call for the release of the remaining members of the flotilla, detained
by the Government of Israel.
The Government of Nicaragua reaffirms its unconditional support for the
Palestinian people's struggle to achieve their inalienable right to live
in peace and security in their own territory, a right which has been
violated by more than sixty years by the occupying power, and joins the
international condemnation that which at the same time demands the
lifting of the inhuman blockade of the Gaza Strip.
The Government of Nicaragua, suspends from this date, diplomatic
relations with the Government of Israel.
Managua, June 1 2010.
Communication and Citizenship Council
Government of National Unity and Reconciliation
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Clinton Urges OAS to Forget Coup, Readmit Honduras
Clinton Urges OAS to Forget Coup, Readmit Honduras
By Rosemary A. Joyce and Russell N. Sheptak
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaking at the Organization of American States (OAS) annual meeting in Lima, Peru on Monday urged countries in the hemisphere to readmit Honduras into the regional organization. The OAS suspended Honduras after the military coup which overthrew President Manuel Zelaya last June.
"We saw the free and fair election of President Lobo, and we have watched President Lobo fulfill his obligations under the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord – including forming a government of national reconciliation and a truth commission. This has demonstrated a strong and consistent commitment to democratic governance and constitutional order," said Clinton.
This is a message the U.S. has been consistently advancing for months.
"Other countries in the region say that they want to wait a while. I don’t know what they’re waiting for, but that’s their right, to wait," said Clinton during a visit to Costa Rica in March. "We believe that President Lobo and his administration have taken the steps necessary to restore democracy."
The problem is that Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and other countries in the region disagree.
"Honduras's return to the OAS must be linked to specific means for ensuring re-democratisation and the establishment of fundamental rights" said Brazil's deputy foreign minister Antonio de Aguiar Patriota.
These nations want to see former President Zelaya free to return to Honduras. They want recent dismissals of judges opposed to the coup to be reversed. And they are also waiting for human rights violations to be investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.
As for Clinton's statement about the Tegucigalpa Accord of October 30, 2009 -- that accord was never even implemented. No amount of saying that Porfirio Lobo Sosa is carrying it out changes that. And Roberto Micheletti, former leader of Honduras's Congress who stepped in as de facto president after the coup toyed with the international community when he unilaterally named a "reconciliation" government, while his allies in the Congress delayed considering restitution of President Zelaya until after elections were held. The U.S. must ultimately take the blame for taking the pressure off Micheletti, due to diplomatic statements guaranteeing that elections would be recognized whether or not President Zelaya was restored. Repeating that the November elections were "free and fair," the U.S. government denies the fact that there were no independent observers that would reassure the world community, and the Honduran people, of this claim, while also never achnowledging other evidence of fraud that surfaced.
The more the U.S. insists that the Lobo government is implementing an agreement (the Tegucigalpa Accord) that died stillborn, the less credibility it has. In place of a government of reconciliation Lobo devised a cabinet in January with token appointments of politicians from other parties. But the reconciliation that was, and is needed in Honduras is not between political parties. Zelaya and Micheletti are both members of the same Liberal Party. What remains unreconciled in Honduras is the gap between the political class, composed of all the traditional parties, and the population that feels alienated from this class. These people who actively opposed the coup d'etat and the de facto regime and continue today to advocate fundamental reform of Honduran institutions remain the targets of repression. This was vividly illustrated in recent weeks by the dismissal of judges who opposed the coup and the military and police assault and closure of an opposition community radio station in the southern peninsula of Zacate Grande.
Meanwhile the "Truth Commission" that the U.S. touts, repudiated by both Honduran progressives and the right-wing forces behind the coup, is so manipulated by opposition on the right that it dropped the word "coup" from its vocabulary. Other Latin American nations that have done the hard work of coming to grips with their own histories of disrupted democracy are under no illusions that this commission will uncover the truth.
Secretary Clinton's insistence on rewarding the Lobo administration with readmission to the OAS, for so-called adherence to the terms of an accord that fell impart long before he was elected, is both a fallacious and feeble argument. When the OAS unanimously voted to suspend Honduras in 2009, it was for violations of its own charter. It is compliance with the OAS charter that Honduras must make good. In the face of continuing human rights violations, and the failure to prosecute violations under the de facto regime, both amply documented by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the OAS itself, it is really not so hard to understand why other hemispheric powers feel Honduras is not yet ready to rejoin the international community.
The path to reintegration in the OAS is not through "implementation" of a non-existent accord to which Honduras's present president was not even a signatory. It requires acknowledging and atoning for the disenfranchisement of the people by the forced removal of a duly elected president. It requires the removal from positions of authority of those who participated in the rupture in government. It requires guarantees of freedom of speech and opinion, of freedom of the press, and encouragement of public debate about the constitutional and governmental framework of Honduras today. A coup is not so easily forgotten.
Rosemary Joyce is the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley. She is an anthropologist who has worked on Honduran cultural heritage for over thirty years. Russell Sheptak, Visiting Scholar at Berkeley, is an historical anthropologist who has collaborated in research in Honduras for most of that time. Together, they write the Honduras Culture and Politics blog, successor to Honduras Coup 2009.
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HONDURAS: Help Save Lives In Honduras-Join the Honduras Solidarity Network’s Emergency Response Network
Help Save Lives In Honduras
Join the Honduras Solidarity Network’s Emergency Response Network
Human rights violations continue to increase in Honduras against the broad-based citizen’s movement which has been bravely demanding democracy and justice since the coup against elected President Manuel Zelaya June 28, 2009.
The November coup-organized election of defacto President Pepe Lobo was supposed to convince the world that Honduras had returned to a state of democratic normalcy. Instead assassinations of resistance leaders have increased. Arrests, disappearances and kidnappings of resistance leaders have increased as well. Peasant groups demanding land are under threat of attack by security forces. Human rights groups, teachers, journalists, LGBT activists, and other supporters of democracy are under constant threat.
When a resistance leader or supporter is arrested or kidnapped, or a community is threatened by military or death squad violence, making the perpetrators know that the international community is watching will often mean the difference between life and death for the human rights victim.
What you can do
You can authorize the Emergency Response Network (ERN) to use your name and address to send a fax or email in your name. When hours and minutes matter, we’ll send a fax from you to the appropriate official(s) in the Honduran and US governments. That may be the Honduran president, attorney general, police or army commander, or even the head of a local jail. US government officials may be the US ambassador, State Department official or important Senators.
The Honduran Front for National Resistance and the human rights group COFADEH will determine when the situation is so critical that the ERN should be mobilized, what the message should be, and to which officials the faxes should be sent. After a fax is sent in your name, the ERN will send you an email including the message that went in your name and what was the result of our mobilization. And, thanks to a generous donor, the cost to you is zero!
Help save lives and support the right of the people of Honduras to democracy and justice. Click on the following link to sign up today:
(Note: if you are already a subscriber to one of the other Alerts lists of the Alliance for Global Justice, this link will not work for you. Instead you can send an email with your name, mailing address, and email to: AfGJ@AfGJ.org.)
The US Honduras Solidarity Network
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HURRICANE AGATHA: Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras affected
Pacayá Volcano Erupts, Tropical Storm Agatha Hits Following Day
Last week's combination of volcanic eruptions and tropical storm Agatha has wreaked havoc on communities and infrastructure nationwide in Guatemala, while at the same time each disaster severely limited the capacity to respond quickly to the other.
Government estimates include over150 deaths, 100 disappeared, over 135,000 people evacuated, over 20,000 homes damaged and at least 35 bridges completely destroyed.
Highland indigenous communities,urban communities built on mountainsides, and subsistence farming communities throughout the country are those hardest hit by the most recent disasters in Guatemala. Communities and individuals will face the long-term effects on physical and psychological health, homes, crops, and infrastructure in the very places that have long confronted structural inequalities and lack of access to economic opportunities and basic services. The disasters have provided a window and urgency to the reality of daily survival that existed before and will exist long after the disaster itself. In many cases, the communities themselves are the ones now organizing and distributing relief and planning long-term.
What can you do?
1. Directly support communities and organizations affected by the disaster. If you are currently in Guatemala, contact us for a list of places where you can drop off donations of food, water, clothes, diapers and other material goods. If you are outside of Guatemala, you can donate through NISGUA directly to the following organizations working in or made up of affected communities:
Comité Campesino Del Altiplano(CCDA)
The CCDA is a community-based organization in Sololá, one of the hardest hit areas. The organization is providing emergency services in communities and coordinating with 10 local shelters. In addition to financial donations, the CCDA needs food,water, material goods, phone cards (TIGO), medical volunteers and equipment. Visit the CCDA blog for more information,pictures and the organization's list of needs.
Asociación Civil Grupo Pro-Justicia Nueva Linda
The storm destroyed the encampment that the group maintains as a permanent presence in front of the Nueva Linda plantation (finca) to demand justice for the 2003 forced disappearance of leader Hector Reyes and a2004 violent eviction that led to the death of 9 group members. The group estimates the losses as a result of tropical storm Agatha at $10,000. Read more and see pictures from the group here.
Fundación Guillermo Toriello
The Guillermo Toriello Foundation is coordinating relief efforts with communities in the western departments of Sololá and Quiché, receiving and distributing donations of food, water and emergency supplies.
For disaster aid ONLY, please send your tax-deductible donations made out to NISGUA to:
c/o Melinda Van Slyke
228 East Jefferson Street
Spring Green, WI, 53588
2. Ask the U.S. government to support Temporary Protected Status (TPS)for Guatemalans currently in the U.S. Contact President Obama and the Department of Homeland Security and ask the government to grant TPS for Guatemalans Call the Department of Homeland Security Comment Line today at 202-282-8495 [if unable to get through, call the White House Comment line at 202-456-1111 (Fax:202-456-2461)] and urge them to grant TPS for Guatemalans.
3. Over the long-term, continue to be a voice in the movements for human rights, indigenous rights, and social and environmental justice. In Guatemala, support the communities calling for integral rural development and free, prior informed consent regarding plans for indigenous territories.
4. For more information:
BBC articles (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/latin_america/10200440.stm, New York Times articles http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/02/world/americas/02guatemala.html?scp=3&sq=agatha&st=cse)
Prensa Libre (http://www.prensalibre.com/) para la información más reciente, CONRED (http://www.conred.org.gt/incidentes/2010/tormenta-tropical-agatha)
Dear gente de NISGUA:
We wanted to update you regarding the aftermath of the volcanic eruption of Pacaya and subsequent storm Agatha.
First, all of our staff and acos are accounted for and well -- although working hard in the clean up and response to conditions. The black sand falling from the volcanic eruption was very eerie, and left a lot of cleaning up to do -- sweeping streets and cleaning out patios, rinsing off plants in our homes so they didn't suffocate, getting the black sand out of our hair!
Tropical storm Agatha left much damage around the country, and we are still waiting for more detailed news in order to determine how best we should respond and support our partners and communities. However, again, you should know all our staff and acos are fine.
Along with ACOGUATE we can tell you about the following communities:
Nueva Linda: no one hurt, but some material losses
CCDA: They are evacuating hundreds of people, with people and houses buried under mud. At least 10 families are affected that we know of. Many have lost homes and all their personal belongings.
SMI: There have been slides, homes and property damaged and lost. The roads between SMI and Hue Hue and San Marcos have been affected.
Cuilco, Huehue: There have been many evacuations and mud slides
San Sebastian, Huehue, and part of northern Huehuetenango: Mud slides, river flooding, families evacuated and loss of property
Rabinal: Mud slides in the road between Salamá and Rabinal
Chimaltenango: the community of Cerro Alto has been completely devastated by a mudslide -- more than 43 families affected. Homes have been lost but up to now it appears no loss of life.
According to an article in la Prensa Libre there have been more than 74 thousand people evacuated around the country, with 13 dead and 24 missing. You can see the article at:
Of course, this places untold hardship on many in the country, and many we work closely with. We will alert you as soon as we have more information.
The NISGUA team. www.nisgua.org
from John Guiliano in Guarjila, Chalatenango, El Salvador:
Tropical Storm Agatha
Life in El Salvador continues on. I guess it was something that I learned and observed during the war. No matter how bad things can get here, people keep moving forward. This week we suffered another blow; Agatha.
It rained for at least five days non stop. When the rain ended yesterday nine people had died, thousands had been evacuated from their homes, roads and bridges had been destroyed and the president had declared a national alert.
The president of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes, said that if the rain continued through Monday, the country would have fallen into a major disaster (thank God it stopped). The already challenged (and in some cases non existent) infrastructure could not withstand one more drop.
Today as the sun shines over the rain soaked mountains there are still families without homes, no land to farm, an infrastructure that is badly beaten up and a good intentioned president who needs to figure a way to relocate families to safety and come good on his many promises. This is a country in need.
But what is amazing as the rain ends today, the sides of mountains are filled with men and women planting corn seeds, planting the crop which will feed them for another year. Undeterred by natural disaster, war and what ever else may happen, seeds continue to be planted for tomorrow. That is El Salvador.
Just a couple of notes on the storm. The many families that we are working with at the Costa del Sol were all evacuated over the weekend but today will return home. Here in Guarjila there was no damage to homes or property. In the northern zone of Chalatenango we did see the destruction of a large piece of the Sumpul River Bridge. The bridge links the communities of northwest Chalatenango (Guarjila, Ellacuria, San Jose las Flores with Nueva Trinidad and Arcatao). It was the bridge that Jon Cortina built during the war. The swirling, rushing water took out a chunk of the bridge. At the apex of the storm the water rose two meters above the bridge. Currently vehicle crossing is impossible but foot traffic is permitted. Critical public transportation across the zone (Arcatao to Chalatenango) is now being accomplished by relay.
Buses from the north of the bridge are running to the foot of the destruction at the Sumpul while other buses on the Las Flores side meet the people crossing on foot and complete the run to Chalatenango.
I can only imagine Fr. Jon Cortina (who reconstructed that bridge during the war) seeing the destruction of this weekend. Jon had the vision of a bridge that would link our communities with the capacity to handle big trucks and buses, to not only move people but also material to build. I guess Jon would say (with a huge smile….cigarette in hand),”well it didn’t fall”. Then he would organize the communities to reconstruct the broken section. The responsibility is with the communities. Have no doubt it will be rebuilt.
Updated SHARE letter:
Dear SHARE Community:
As you may have heard, on May 27th and 28th, Tropical Storm Agatha washed over El Salvador causing major damage and crisis to many areas of the country. For days before and after the storm, heavy rains pounded the streets and saturated the ground. Then Agatha arrived, dumping fully 120 mm more rain in 24 hours than the infamous Hurricane Mitch did in 1998. Efforts are underway to clear streets, remove mud and bring in relief supplies, with the goal of helping people restore their homes and rebuild their lives. We cannot do this without you.
SHARE has received many requests for emergency funds from our partner organizations on the ground in El Salvador. We are doing our best to assist in meeting the most immediate needs of the Salvadoran people - many of whom had only just begun to rebuild after Hurricane Ida struck in November of 2009.
Just as you responded to the calls for assistance after Ida, we again ask for your support and solidarity. Our goal in this initial phase is to raise $15,000 to enable five of SHARE's partners to provide funds for such basic needs as food, potable water, medicines and equipment for temporary shelters.
La Pequeńa Comunidad in Jiquilisco, Usulatán, where a small group of women religious have supported residents in the community for more than 40 years. They are longtime SHARE allies and compańeras. During this emergency, they have been reaching out to those whose homes were inundated with cooked meals and supplies to meet the most immediate needs.
ISD - Iniciativa Social para la Democracia - in San Pedro Massahuat, La Paz. Hurricane Ida wrecked serious damage on this community, leading to the initiation of several long term reconstruction initiatives. However, the need remains great following Agatha. ISD seeks to help 219 families, all of whom have experienced severe damage to their homes and are now spread across 11 shelters.
Mujeres Ganaderas - This women's cooperative works in 29 communities in El Bajo Lempa region. Their vision is to ensure the prosperity and success of women's groups in the area. In this important moment, the priority will be on helping restore the cooperatives' capacity to generate income for the members.
CRIPDES San Vicente. After 5 days of heavy, persistent rainfall, the levy situated on the Lempa River broke, inundating communities along the river banks with water. This will leave them vulnerable for the rest of the rainy season as repairs may not be completed for many months.
REDES - is closely tracking damages and the number of displaced families across five departments in El Salvador and will be providing packages of emergency supplies.
An excerpt from the proposal we received from ISD:
"ISD accompanies the processes of strengthening citizenship participation, public transparency and local development; for these reasons, we cannot turn a blind eye to situations of emergency as we are a very vulnerable country and the Salvadoran people often experience high levels of poverty and marginalization.
That is why we decided to present this proposal to the SHARE Foundation; the Salvadoran population is continually faced with many problems and challenges and [SHARE] has always shown solidarity."
Ways you can help our compańeros y compańeras in El Salvador:
Give a financial contribution via (www.share-elsalvador.org) or by sending a check "snail mail" with AGATHA written in the memo line to: 415 Michigan Avenue NE, Washington DC 20017
Share this email with your friends and relatives
Take up a collection of funds for Agatha relief efforts within your communities
Keep the Salvadoran people in your thoughts to keep spirits high as they begin the long process of rebuilding
From the U.S. and El Salvador SHARE staff and our counterparts in El Salvador, we would like to express our sincerest gratitude for your unwavering support of the Salvadoran people.
first letter from SHARE
Dear SHARE community,
As Tropical Storm Agatha moved over Salvadoran territory beginning last Thursday, El Salvador braced itself for yet another disaster. Heavy rainfall for days straight led to flooding and landslides throughout the country, and after elevating alert levels throughout the weekend, a state of emergency was declared. In his Sunday afternoon address, Funes asked citizens to cooperate with authorities and heed calls for evacuation, promising security for the homes and belongings families would leave behind and food and shelter at their destination. He made a call to solidarity organizations, political parties and governmental institutions to respond and unite to this most recent disaster.
As the rains diminish and we receieve more and more information about the aftermath from sister communities and counterparts, including organizations that SHARE was able to support after Hurricane Ida in November, we write with our own call: please help us respond to this most recent emergency.
Preliminary data from the Civil Protection Department informs that 10,335 people are currently in temporary shelter in 198 shelters throughout the country. Flooding of the Río Lempa caused evacuations in San Pablo Tacachico and El Paisnal along with dozens of communities in the Bajo Lempa, including the municipality of Tecoluca, along with dozens of communities in La Libertad, Cuscatlan, La Paz, Usulutan and San Vicente.
It appears that warning systems and coordination between community response teams and government institutions greatly reduced loss of life in this most recent storm. Many homes and communities have been destroyed or damaged, school on the national level has been suspended and many highways have been damaged from land and mudslides. Additionally, planting season already began, meaning that much of this year's crop may be lost from flooding, landslides or saturation of water.
In a press conference today, director of Civil Protection Meléndez declared that the situation is too generalized to have complete data, and while an evaluation of all damages on the national level has not been compelted, the country will remain red alert. The Enviornmental Minister, Herman Rosa Chavéz, for his part, informed that the levels of rain during Agatha were above 483mm in only 24 hours, surpassing those during Hurricane Mitch, at 375mm (source: Diaro CoLatino).
While government institutions ask people to remain on alert even when the rains diminish, we at SHARE have another request: as you did so generously in November after Hurricane Ida, please give to help the Salvadoran people respond and rebuild after this most recent disaster. Mail a check with AGATHA in the subject line to the SHARE Foundation, 415 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20017, or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
CISPES Update - June 7, 2010
Tropical Storm Agatha Leaves 9 Dead and 8,000 Evacuated
From Friday, May 28 through Monday, May 31 intense rains caused by Tropical Storm Agatha dropped over 19 inches of rain, causing flooding, mudslides, killing 9 people and resulting in the evacuation of 8,000 people to shelters; the storm took the lives of at least 146 across Central America. On May 29, President Mauricio Funes and the Director of Civil Protection Jorge Meléndez declared a Red Alert and National State of Emergency. With the Red Alert, Civil Protection began coordinating with local Civil Protection Committees that have been formed in zones at high risk of disasters to begin evacuating residents. Throughout Agatha, President Funes, Meléndez and other government officials traveled around the country, monitoring damages and helping local committees evacuate residents. While Agatha brought greater rainfall in a shorter period of time than last fall's Tropical Storm Ida and Hurricane Mitch of 1998, there were far fewer deaths, a fact attributed to new national emergency response plans that have been recently developed and to the quick response of authorities to evacuate communities. President Funes also announced on Monday that the government would provide homes to families that lost theirs during the storm.
The rains cleared last Monday, but officials warn that very little additional rain could set off destructive landslides, given the water saturation level of the ground soil. El Salvador's left political party, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) has issued a national and international call to its base committees, asking members to assist evacuation efforts and to send funds and necessary goods to El Salvador for evacuees and disaster mitigation efforts. FMLN volunteer work brigades will be cleaning and repairing structures in affected areas. Officials report that Agatha has caused an estimated $20 million in damages.
El Frente de Resistencia llama al apoyo solidario para “barrios y colonias afectados por las lluvias”
Discutirán mecanismo para canalizar ayuda internacional
Red Morazánica de Información
Tegucigalpa. 31 de mayo de 2010. El coordinador del Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular (FNRP), Juan Barahona, en el programa radial, Resistencia, llamó a sus miembros a “dar el apoyo solidario, a los compańeros y compańeras de los barrios y colonias, en las diferentes zonas afectadas por la subida de los ríos”.
Destacó que, los afectados y, en general, los pobladores de los barrios y colonias, “son la base de la Resistencia”.
Barahona, informó que la Coordinación del Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular (FNRP), se reunirá para analizar “un llamado a los países de la Unión de Naciones Suramericanas (Unasur), y a otros países, que reconocen a la Resistencia como un interlocutor válido, para ver cómo se canaliza un apoyo a quienes fueron golpeados por la naturaleza”.
El Coordinador del Frente sostuvo: “Somos representantes del pueblo hondureńo, una organización legítima del pueblo, con el reconocimiento internacional de países que [a su vez] no reconocen a este régimen”, por lo que buscarán “cómo esta ayuda pueda canalizarse”.
Y argumentó, “tenemos experiencias muy negativas de cómo se han canalizado las ayudas con el Fifí y el Mitch [huracanes], que se desvían hacia otros que no tienen necesidad”.
Según Barahona, esa situación de manejo irregular de las ayudas humanitarias internacionales de salvamento y recuperación, “se podría venir corrigiendo”, con la participación del FNRP.
La lucha sigue, la naturaleza no puede detenerla
“La lucha que hacemos ahora, no se puede detener por efectos de la naturaleza”, declaró.
Y explicó que, “a la par que tenemos a los compańeros afectados y continuamos a ayudarlos; continuarán toda las luchas y las huelgas de hambre [en la Plaza de La Resistencia], la de los compańeros del Sitraunah [Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras) y el levantamiento de las firmas”, para la consulta popular.
“Lamentablemente, estos dańos de la naturaleza nos pueden atrasar, pero no nos van a desviar de nuestra lucha. Seguimos trabajando por la Constituyente y -a la par-, ayudaremos a nuestros compańeros afectados”, aclaró Barahona.
“La única forma de volver a la legalidad [rota por el golpe de Estado] es con la Constituyente”, agregó.
Y recordó que, el próximo domingo, 6 de junio, desde las ocho de la mańana, se realizará el siguiente recuento de Declaraciones Soberanas colectadas en los departamentos de la Región Norte, y otros que quedaron pendientes en el primer escrutinio, que se hizo en Tegucigalpa. More...
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TRADE & IMMIGRATION: Inter-American Development Bank Megaprojects: Displacement and Forced Migration
Inter-American Development Bank Megaprojects: Displacement and Forced Migration
I. Prologue by Oscar Chacón
II. Introduction by Laura Carlsen and Michael Collins
III. The IDB in Mexico: Plan Puebla-Panama, Integration, and Displacement by Laura Carlsen and Michael Collins
IV. IDB Policy in the Development of Agrofuels: Displacement and Palm Oil Cultivation in Colombia by Paula Álvarez
V. Financing Megaprojects and the Affected Populations: The Cana Brava Hydroelectric Project (Goiás, Brasil) by Ricardo Verdum
VI. IDB Financing, Enclave Tourism, and Garifuna Land Loss in the Bahia de Tela by Christopher Loperena
VII. Report Conclusions by Laura Carlsen
By Oscar Chacón
The displacement of communities and forced migration in our countries as a consequence of Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) projects is an issue of greatest importance, but one that is seldom addressed. Researchers from these countries have worked yet again on this issue and will present findings at the conference of the Inter-American Development Bank to be held from the 19th to the 23rd of March, 2010, in Cancun, Mexico.
For the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities (the English acronym is NALAAC), an organization of communities of Latin American migrants who live in the Diaspora of globalization, displacement of communities and forced migration comprise the central issue. We in Latin American migrant communities are anxious to be partners in the construction of a future in which Latin American men and women can live in countries which offer conditions worthy of life and where our political, economic, and social needs will be well met. We dream, also, of countries where material well-being will be fully reconciled with environmental equilibrium, assuring us of long term sustainability. Precisely because this is the future we dream of, it worries us enormously that alleged development comes at the costs of displacement and migration.
The great changes which are taking place in the hemisphere imply a change in the use of the land in great parts of the territory. These changes tend to make it impossible to sustain the campesino economy because the construction of huge development projects [means] less capacity to generate jobs. There are two consequences of this type of development: in the medium and long term, there is displacement and forced migration for economic reasons. In the short term, the displacement is provoked directly by so-called projects of development.
The significance of infrastructure megaprojects financed by the IDB for the purpose of an elusive development has not been subject to analysis in regard to its impact on either internal or external migration. In the context of a global economy with fewer and fewer possibilities of absorbing displaced persons in new labor markets, the problems caused by these practices are more urgent than ever.
The lives of the people in the communities who have been the object of these studies have been severely altered, perhaps irreparably. Beyond the empathy and solidarity that their stories generate, we hope that this investigation helps to minimize the repetition of these practices. The human costs of these projects are difficult to quantify precisely, and it is even more difficult to imagine that they can be remedied satisfactorily.
The study which we now present to you is a collaboration between the NALACC and the Americas Program of the Center for International Policy. It represents the results, realized and broadened, of a line of investigation which seeks to produce knowledge of the function of transformational activities with the hope that they may help us to continue to define a new version of integrated fair and sustainable development for the long term for the pueblos of the American continent.
We thank every one of the researchers who have collaborated with us in this effort, and we hope that the collective value of these investigations will animate the pueblos of the American continent, including migrant populations, to play a more active role in monitoring, resisting (when it is necessary), and impacting the policies which emerge from our respective governments, as well as those that emerge from political bodies and multinational financial companies who say they are working on our behalf. The ultimate goal will continue to be the achievement of a healthier way of life, filled with a genuine sense of the realization of our personal and community aspirations, and at the same time, viable for the long term because of its full respect for the indispensable ecological equilibrium.
II. Introduction: IDB Megaprojects: Displacement, Destruction, and Deception
As the IDB meets in Cancun this month to celebrate its 51st anniversary, its governors are expecting a major birthday present—the infusion of millions of dollars into the bank portfolio to address the global economic crisis in the region.
But is the IDB prepared to lead the charge in efforts to relieve the suffering caused by the crisis and persistent poverty in the region? What does its track record tell us?
When civil society organizations affected by bank projects met last year at the bank’s meeting in Medellín, they presented damning evidence that the IDB had become a persona non grata in much of Latin America, and that its practices have had negative environmental, social, and even economic impacts on the region. More and more citizens have organized to protest projects financed by the IDB throughout Latin America, especially when those citizens belong to a community directly affected by IDB-funded displacement.
As part of the effort to evaluate IDB practices and recommend changes, the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities and the CIP Americas Program decided to look at the often-ignored issue of displacement in IDB projects. The regional bank’s focus on the construction of large infrastructure projects has led to the displacement or planned displacement of thousands of communities throughout Latin America over the years. Despite IDB guidelines that mandate the avoidance of displacement due to its high human, social, cultural, and environmental costs, the bank has forged ahead with projects that cause massive physical displacement and forced migration of local communities. In many cases, the displaced are indigenous or afro-descendent communities with a cultural presence on the land that stretches back for centuries.
Our report studies IDB megaprojects in Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, and Honduras and what has been termed “development-induced displacement.” Based on the results of these projects on local communities, we find the use of the term “development” perverse.
In these case studies, the inhabitants of the lands to be flooded out, plowed under, or built on play an active role. In most instances, rather than passively joining the diaspora, they have organized to defend their land and call for the suspension or modification of bank-promoted megaprojects. They have been met with threats and assassinations from interests vested in the multibillion-dollar investments, but they are making their voices heard.
1. Mexican dams and hydroelectric projects. In Mexico, plans to build a giant hydroelectric project in La Parota, Guerrero—financed by the IDB as part of the Plan Puebla-Panama regional development scheme—were highly polemical from day one. Local residents, environmentalists, and international organizations against dam-building criticized the plan to flood a jungle valley and displace more than 25,000 villagers. The lack of consultation meant that local farmers discovered that their land had been expropriated for the dam project only when heavy construction equipment began arriving. Following protests over the lack of legally-required consultation, the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) charged with the project began faking consultation and was successfully prosecuted for falsification of documents; it still faces accusations of crimes against the environment and building on land without permission. Legal problems mounted, residents refused to leave, and the UN and International Water Tribunal lambasted the Mexican government for the project, but the IDB continued to promote it.
In a similar case, the IDB also proposed financing a hydroelectric dam project called El Arcediano on the Santiago River. The project entails the complete disappearance of the Arcediano village and has received criticism from experts who cite the lack of consultation, environmental risks, health issues related to the quality of the water, the project’s cost, and displacement as key problems. Water pollution led to the death of an eight-year-old boy who died from arsenic poisoning after falling in the river last year. Residents ask why the bank proposes damming the river to deliver its poison waters to more people, instead of helping to clean it up.
The La Parota and Arcediano dams have both been recently suspended due to public protest. They have not been definitively cancelled and there is evidence that a new round of battles will take place soon.
2. Colombian palm oil and displacement of Afro-Colombian communities. Our Colombia case study analyzes IDB participation in the active promotion of palm oil production for agrofuels. In Colombia, armed conflict and palm oil are inextricably linked, since palm oil companies backed by powerful interests have been appropriating land from Afro-Colombian communities purposely displaced by violence. There have been documented assassinations of community leaders to force the sale of land for palm oil production and forced migration has been the tactic of choice for taking over peasant land to extend the palm production. The IDB promotes palm plantations under its “climate change” and development programs, lauding them as a “transformative opportunity” and a generator of investment, development, and employment in rural areas. The displacement impact has been ignored.
3. Brazil: dam displacement and the hazards of relocation. In 1999, the IDB funded a large-scale dam known as CH Cana Brava. The project led to a devastating change in the social and environmental make-up of the area. The project had the dubious honor of being the first dam constructed entirely by a private company under a neoliberal legal and institutional framework introduced by the Brazilian government at the end of the 90s.
More than 1,000 families in the local community—mostly migrants from northeastern Brazil and descendants of African slaves—were displaced by the megaproject. Many lost their lands and livelihoods. The IDB had a key role in the resettlement and negotiation process. Town meetings were chaired in the intimidating presence of the military police, and the bank tried to negate the important role of community leaders by taking a stance—along with its partners the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) and the company Tractebel—refusing to negotiate collectively with the community. Over a decade later and after many adjustments in the relocation process, more than 600 families have still not been successfully reintegrated into self-sustaining communities.
4. Honduras: tourism megaproject and displacement. An IDB-funded project at Tela Bay on the coast of Honduras is leading to the displacement of Garifuna and small farm communities. The coup d’etat in that country opened the door to interests ready to move full-steam ahead on this project, despite local resistance and studies showing severe environmental damage. This study analyzes levels of displacement involved in the tourist development and IDB compliance with its own guidelines on displacement.
A final note: Despite the IDB’s commitment to transparency, we found it difficult to locate certain documents and general information on controversial projects. Email inquiries went unanswered, important documents were taken offline, officers refused phone inquiries, and official project descriptions were often vague and misleading.
We also found that the IDB too often fails to enforce its own policy on key matters. The bank has a commitment to consultation, yet many of its projects lack the deliberation the IDB promises and that is required under ILO Convention 169 and other international law. The IDB has a commitment to monitoring borrowers’ projects, yet after providing the loan the bank often shows little interest in the consequences, particularly surrounding displacement.
Massive displacement of human populations and the disruption of communities cannot be dismissed as short-term collateral damage from the war on poverty. All available literature points to the continued or increased impoverishment of displaced communities, as well as the loss of their cultural, social, and environmental heritages. The IDB must end its silence, and publicly respond to the criticism and controversy that surrounds its projects. It must also abandon its single-minded approach to megaprojects, and explore other development and energy alternatives.
III. The Inter-American Development Bank in Mexico: Plan Puebla-Panama, Integration, and Displacement
By Laura Carlsen and Michael Collins
1. Overview of IDB in Mexico
B) Plan Puebla-Panama/Mesoamerican Project
C) Megaprojects and Displacement
2. Integrating Capital and Displacing People: IDB-Funded Dam Projects in Mexico
3. Case Studies
A) La Parota
B) El Arcediano
4. Transparency Issues
1. An Overview of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in Mexico
In recent years, the IDB has heavily financed projects in Mexico as a priority country. Four hundred ninety-three projects have been financed since 1993 and this intense activity shows no sign of letting up. The IDB announced that it opened up $6 billion in credit lines for 2008 and invested in 40 projects in Mexico. For 2009, Ellis J. Juan, representative of the IDB in Mexico, declared that “This is going to be the biggest IDB program in the region, along with the assistance planned for Brazil.” The IDB has stated that Mexico will receive $5 billion in loans over the next two years.
This new financing for infrastructure, housing, and cash transfers to the rural and urban poor is in part a bailout from the effects of the economic crisis and rapid devaluation, but also part of a longer-term strategy. As other Latin American nations turned away from international financing institutions due to the political conditioning attached to their loans, a succession of neoliberal governments in Mexico turned that country into a veritable laboratory for the public-private financing of infrastructure that the IDB has been promoting for years. Several pilot projects, one to finance infrastructure projects directly through state governments (FORTEM) and another to draft new state legislation for private infrastructure investment, called Promotion of Public-Private Associations in Mexican States (Impulso de Asociaciones Público-Privadas en Estados Mexicanos—PIAPPEM), were announced in a Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Mexican government and the IDB in February of 2007. These will be supported by further funds from Infrafund, an IDB project specifically to help prepare infrastructure projects.
At the signing of the Memorandum, Mexican President Felipe Calderon and IDB President Luis Moreno affirmed the centrality of infrastructure megaprojects to their shared concept of development. Calderon cited infrastructure development as the sine qua non of investment, stating, “Infrastructure is the best way to regional equality and justice. You can only truly fight poverty by growth and employment and the only way to generate jobs is through investment, which cannot be generated without the development of infrastructure.” Moreno agreed, saying, “A robust and modern infrastructure is indispensable for competition and regional integration,” and noted that the private-public associations could mobilize as much as $8 billion in infrastructure financing between the state and the private sector over the next six years.
B. Plan Puebla-Panama/Mesoamerican Project: Regional Integration, Investment, and Displacement
For the past decade the major vehicle for IDB financing in Mexico has been the Plan Puebla-Panama, later rechristened the Mesoamerican Project. This plan envisions a series of large hydroelectric dams, tree plantations, highway and electrical systems, etc. to link Mexico into the U.S. market and attract foreign investment.
The IDB’s gung-ho approach to financing megaprojects contrasts with the mounting public criticism that many of its infrastructure projects have generated. The uncritical commitment to large infrastructure projects as the central strategy of its Mexico portfolio is all the more startling given the bank’s usual attempts to keep a low public profile and avoid such controversies.
This strategy dates back nearly two decades when the IDB along with the Mexican government launched the overarching plan for changing land use and reorienting production in Mexico under the then-titled “Plan Puebla-Panama.” The plan generated massive public criticism, international organizing in opposition, and local protests due to its implications for the displacement of indigenous and peasant communities and widespread environmental damage. Planners went scurrying back to the drawing board—not to design a new plan but to design a new public relations strategy. After laying low for a period of years, the PPP was re-launched under its new guise of the Mesoamerica Project. This time around, transparency has been a major problem for citizen groups seeking to evaluate the plan, since after the public debacle with the PPP the IDB is careful not to specify which of its current and future projects come under the banner of Proyecto Mesoamerica, despite the fact that it is providing $1.3 billion in loans to the project.
The question remains, in the midst of the name changes and shifting PR programs, what is the premise behind this kind of regional integration scheme? How does it affect the lives of the people who live and work in the vast swath of national territory included in the plan?
The Plan Puebla-Panama (PPP) was inaugurated by Mexican President Vicente Fox at the beginning of 2001, as an ambitious scheme for the integration of the Mesoamerican region into a region that starts at the state of Puebla in Mexico, passes through five states in Southern Mexico (Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guerrero, Campeche, Puebla), and the seven countries of Central America (Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama), and recently included Colombia. The IDB was a major backer of the PPP from the outset. It planned a $4 billion dollar investment in the regional integration project of what was originally conceived of as a $10 billion-dollar plan. Over eight billion has been spent to date.
The stated goal of the PPP was to achieve the integration and development in the region within the context of what was viewed as an inevitable and desirable model of globalization. At the summit of regional leaders in 2004, it was defined as “part of a developmental strategy to strengthen economies and markets for interaction and the construction of a Mesoamerican regional identity, culminating in the inclusion of a globalized economy in the region.” The PPP embodied the goals of developed countries (particularly the regional leader, the United States) and transnational corporations sought to draw Mesoamerican nations more tightly into the global economy as new markets, sources of natural resources, and a zone of cheap labor. It promised job-generating investment for the areas affected. The plan involved stimulating and deepening international economic activities such as import, export, and offshore investment and production by facilitating the north-south transit of goods and articulating investments in the zone via a modern, large-scale infrastructure.
Another objective put forward was the stimulation of “regional cooperation to sustainably make the most of the riches and comparative advantages of the Mesoamerican region, rectifying the historic dearth of physical infrastructure and reducing the poverty index, and the region’s vulnerability to natural disasters.” To date there has been no comprehensive evaluation of progress in these areas.
Plan Puebla-Panama was conceived of to confront two main challenges. The first was the obvious lack of benefits generated by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in Southern Mexico, where most of the country’s poor and marginalized population is concentrated. This flaw was widely recognized; the World Bank published a study calling Southern Mexico “the region not reached by NAFTA.” The study proposed the region’s enhanced insertion into globalization via new infrastructure, foreign investment, and exploitation of natural resources. It ran directly counter to what indigenous farm movements had diagnosed as the problem—a lack of social equity and the pulverization of traditional livelihoods as a result of globalization.
The second challenge for the globalization agenda of governments in the region was the perceived need to open the Central American countries to foreign investment, especially to facilitate international exploitation of the abundance of natural resources in the region and to link these investments to the U.S. market.
The citizen-based movements that opposed the PPP claimed it would displace them from their lands and traditional livelihoods, either directly such as through expropriation for dams and other large projects, or indirectly by making it impossible to live off traditional productive activities such as farming, fishing, crafts production, or other activities common in the communities. The PPP had become the focus of a battle over land use and development plans that pitted the modernizers and their grandiose plans for remaking the region in such a way as to attract large investors, against communities that argued that the problem was not what they were doing, but the relations of power that kept them from gaining the benefits from what they were doing.
Surprising, the local movements won round one and just a little over a year after its spectacular launch, the PPP entered into a period of stagnation and a conscious decision was made to lower its profile. On the one hand, the plan did not obtain the international financing expected because of the post-9/11 economic crisis. On the other hand, the unexpected popular resistance movement in Mexico managed to stop infrastructure projects that threatened their communities, by building local opposition movements and creating an international network to educate the public. This proved to be such a headache to the Mexican government that in 2003, then-Mexican President Vicente Fox and the IDB decided to shelve the plan, removing official websites and vanishing it from public view and official discourse.
Public criticism of the PPP caused the bank and the Mexican government to withdraw the major publicity campaign for the plan and go back to the drawing board in terms of how to sell the scheme for massive infrastructure development to a leery public. After much backtracking, in a 2002 meeting between the IDB and NGOs on the subject of the polemical Plan Puebla-Panama, IDB representative stated unequivocally that, “We won’t discuss dams because we won’t fund them. We won’t fund them through the private sector department either.” Yet at that very point, the bank was providing financing for several hydroelectric projects in Latin America.
According to press reports, the IDB was very involved in the phase of trying to improve the PPP public image. The bank contracted a public relations firm to try to dispel the negative image around the plan through the magic of Madison Avenue. It created social programs for local inhabitants, something that had been ignored in the original plan. However, these projects continued to be a tiny fraction of the total resources. For example, on Nov. 13, 2003 the IDB, other international finance institutions, and the eight countries involved signed a Memorandum of Understanding on agricultural and livestock and rural development to emphasize economic opportunities for the indigenous and “campesino” communities of the region, but it is unclear how the money was spent or what the results were.
In the period of dormancy, many integration projects planned for the PPP continued to advance under other names and through other government programs in order to avoid attracting the public protests that had accompanied the PPP in affected communities, and among indigenous people and environmental groups.
In April 2007, the new Mexican President Felipe Calderon, despite the protests of the local communities, re-launched the PPP in the state of Campeche as a “response to the challenges and opportunities that the international community faces.” The main projects included were the construction of the Central American Electrical Interconnection System (SIEPAC) that involves a transmission line from Guatemala to Panama and the construction of 381 hydroelectric dams, and a Mesoamerican road network of more than 10,209 km. The Campeche meeting announced that the PPP was actively involved in 99 projects at a cost of more than $8 million.
In June 2008, the presidents of the member countries of the PPP met again in Mexico, and with the hope of finally shedding Plan Puebla-Panama’s image problem, they rechristened the plan the Mesoamerican Integration and Development Project, or “Mesoamerican Project” for short.
C. Megaprojects and Displacement
Due to widespread recognition of the problem, the IDB developed guidelines in 1998 on involuntary resettlement. The guidelines state that “The objective of the policy is to minimize the disruption of the livelihood of people living in the project’s area of influence, by avoiding or minimizing the need for physical displacement, ensuring that when people must be displaced they are treated equitably and, where feasible, can share in the benefits of the project that requires their resettlement.” The guidelines list two principles:
1) “Every effort will be made to avoid or minimize the need for involuntary resettlement” including evaluating alternatives using accurate estimates of the number of people affected, the costs of resettlement, the socio-cultural impact, and the vulnerability of the affected population. It concludes, “When a large number of people or a significant portion of the affected community would be subject to relocation and/or impacts affect assets and values that are difficult to quantify and to compensate, after all other options have been explored, the alternative of not going ahead with the project should be given serious consideration.”
2) “When displacement is unavoidable, a resettlement plan must be prepared to ensure that the affected people receive fair and adequate compensation and rehabilitation. In the shortest possible period of time, that guarantees a (i) minimum standard of living and access to land, natural resources, and services (such as potable water, sanitation, community infrastructure, land titling) at least equivalent to pre-resettlement levels; (ii) recover all losses caused by transitional hardships; (iii) experience as little disruption as possible to their social networks, opportunities for employment or production, and access to natural resources and public facilities; and (iv) have access to opportunities for social and economic development.”
Under special considerations, the guidelines call for an “impoverishment risk analysis” when the project affects marginal groups, taking into account loss of employment, land, food security, means of production, social networks, and access to education. The study should include preventive measures that take into account gender, ethnicity, income, and other socio-economic factors. In the case of displacement of indigenous communities, the guidelines say that the bank will only support projects where (i) the resettlement component will result in direct benefits to the affected community relative to their prior situation; (ii) customary rights will be fully recognized and fairly compensated; (iii) compensation options will include land-based resettlement; and (iv) the people affected have given their informed consent to the resettlement and compensation measures. They call for community participation at each stage of resettlement design and implementation and compensation.
In addition to social displacement, there is environmental displacement. In some cases, although the project itself does not displace communities, the environmental impact in effect does. For this reason no study of displacement and forced migration can be separated from the environmental impact. Most of the communities under study are indigenous or “campesino” communities that rely on a close relationship with the earth for their livelihoods.
In January 2006, the bank approved a new environment and safeguards compliance policy. The policy “requires early and ongoing engagement with communities affected by a project and seeks community support before financing large projects.” The policy stipulates, among other things, that:
- The bank will monitor the executing agency/borrower’s compliance with all safeguard requirements stipulated in the loan agreement and project operating or credit regulations.
- All bank-financed operations will be screened and classified according to their potential environmental impacts.
- The bank will require compliance with specified standards for Environmental Impact Assessments.
- Projects will require consultations with affected parties and consideration of their views.
- Bank-financed operations will include, as appropriate, measures to prevent, reduce, or eliminate pollution emanating from their activities.
Nevertheless, as is demonstrated by communities in areas where projects such as La Parota were being performed, this policy has not been enforced.
The attitude of the IDB seems to be to finance the project and then look the other way, while citizens are left to deal with unresponsive or openly repressive agencies, like the CFE, that are charged with implementing the project.
2. Integrating Capital and Displacing People: IDB-Funded Dam Projects in Mexico
Michael Cernea states that:
“Forced population displacement is always crisis-prone, even when necessary as part of broad and beneficial development programs. It is a profound socioeconomic and cultural disruption for those affected. Dislocation breaks up living patterns and social continuity. It dismantles existing modes of production, disrupts social networks, causes the impoverishment of many of those uprooted, threatens their cultural identity, and increases the risks of epidemics and health problems.”
The fundamental reason behind grassroots organization to reject the PPP projects was the threat of displacement of local populations that the projects entailed. The megaprojects funded by the IDB through Plan Puebla Panama and its subsequent incarnations almost all lead to some degree of displacement or forced migration. In some cases—particularly dam building, as will be discussed in the case of the La Parota and Arcediano hydroelectric projects below—the displacement is foreseen and direct. In others, the change of land use promoted by the projects either eliminates livelihoods or changes the environment in such a way that it can no longer support the communities that have lived there for years. For example, monoculture plantations promoted in the PPP, like eucalyptus or crops for biofuels, require far less labor than small farms so as land converts to this use jobs are lost and inhabitants are forced to migrate out. Large tourism projects that in many cases don’t even hire locally also tend to displace traditional livelihoods.
This is what experts have termed “development-induced displacement.” According to Michael Cernea, a World Bank analyst, the causes of development-induced displacement include water supply (dams, reservoirs, irrigation); urban infrastructure; transportation (roads, highways, canals); energy (mining, power plants, oil exploration and extraction, pipelines); agricultural expansion; parks and forest reserves; and population redistribution schemes. The same author describes the principal risks as: landlessness, joblessness, homelessness, marginalization, food insecurity, increased morbidity and mortality, loss of access to common property, and social disintegration. In other words, nearly every critical aspect of human existence is potentially negatively affected by displacement.
Moreover, Courtland Robinson notes that development-induced displacement tends to exacerbate social inequality. “Not only is development-induced displacement a widespread, and growing, phenomenon, but evidence suggests that while the beneficiaries of development are numerous, the costs are being borne disproportionately by the poorest and most marginalized populations.”  Another author, Rajagopal Balakrishnan, went so far as to dub displacement and out-migration caused by development projects as “development cleansing,” saying that “(they) may well constitute ethnic cleansing in disguise, as the people dislocated so often turn out to be from minority ethnic and racial communities.” Indeed, all the cases of displacement and forced migration analyzed in this paper most directly affect poor, indigenous communities.
Principle 6 of the Guiding Principles presented to the UN Commission on Human Rights states that: “Every human being shall have the right to be protected against being arbitrarily displaced from his or her home or place of habitual residence,” and goes on to say that, “The prohibition of arbitrary displacement includes displacement in cases of large-scale development projects that are not justified by compelling and overriding public interests.”
Despite criticism from non-governmental organizations and affected communities and the evident impact on displacement, the IDB’s funding for projects in Mexico has been welcomed wholeheartedly by successive Mexican governments that see the investments as a key factor in assuring a flow of credit and foreign currency to the country’s often fluctuating economy. Many Mexican companies, like BANSEFI, have benefited from the IDB’s lavish financing of private-public partnerships.
However, it is becoming more and more apparent that local citizens affected by these multi-million dollar projects are mostly seen as obstacles in the face of top-down development. This section will study IDB-backed projects that have grave repercussions on Mexicans, causing displacement and forcing migration.
Mexico already holds the dubious title of the nation that expels more of its own people than anywhere else in the world. The model of economic integration locked in place under the North American Free Trade Agreement has led to a dramatic increase in out-migration because it displaces traditional livelihoods through imports, land use changes, and concentration. The PPP and projects funded by the IDB within the logic of NAFTA-style regional integration accelerate the process, while adding the direct displacement caused by infrastructure megaprojects.
The IDB has been a devout supporter of the NAFTA model in Mexico and its infrastructure investment is designed to support and extend the free-trade model as a path to development. An IDB report in 2002 noted, “Completion of a balanced and comprehensive FTAA agreement by 2005 is a crucial strategic objective for Latin America and the Caribbean. Such an agreement promises to provide more secure market access to North America, reduce trade diversion within the sub-regions, improve productivity, stimulate foreign direct investment, and strengthen cooperation with North America.” When the FTAA negotiations collapsed in Mar del Plata because southern countries protested the lopsided advantages granted northern corporations under the agreement, the IDB continued to support the PPP as a form of infrastructure-led integration focused on economic integration among the Mesoamerican and Pacific Rim nations that had signed FTAs with the United States. The Campeche Joint Declaration erases any doubt about the relationship between Plan Puebla Panama’s
integration and infrastructure plan and the NAFTA free trade model; one of the resolutions reads: “To respectfully urge the U.S. Congress to quickly approve the Free Trade agreements signed by the governments of this country and of Colombia and Panama.”
The IDB’s latest publicly available Mexico strategy (2002-2006), has as one of its main themes “The integration of Mexico with the rest of North America through NAFTA is progressing well. Now the Puebla-Panama Plan proposes that regional integration be expanded toward Central America, emphasizing the role of the states in the south of Mexico.”
The IDB blindly continues to support infrastructure megaprojects despite the social costs and widespread public protest over the projects. The criticism that they benefit large construction companies and expel local populations has not been heard by the bank, nor do full studies exist to seriously evaluate this claim, which is a very serious one for development aims. The following cases demonstrate a strategy of shunting aside local populations, without applying even its own guidelines on displacement. It is our belief that both the IDB’s consultation process and criteria for selection of projects must be overhauled if the bank is to improve its much-maligned reputation and avoid damaging the lives and livelihoods of the very citizens it purports to benefit.
3. Case Studies
A. La Parota, Guerrero
Large-scale dam construction is among the most prominent and dramatic forms of displacement caused by development projects. A World Bank study calculated that in the dam-building frenzy of the early 90s, 300 high dams displaced over 4 million people. Despite recognizing the problems involved in the massive displacement, the report concluded that displacement due to development projects was likely to increase over the coming decade.
The project entails the construction of a dam on the Papagayo river that would provide 900 MW of energy and drinking water to the Acapulco municipality.
The current financial commitments of the IDB to La Parota dam are not clear. In the 2010 list of projects appears this one to the CFE dated May 24, 2007:
“Assistance to CFE on Environmental and Social Aspects of Hydroelectric Projects”
Project Description: The main objective of this TC is to assess CFE performance and management capability in dealing with environmental and social impacts of large hydroelectric projects through a practical approach that will consider the project as a pilot initiative. This assessment is a key element when conducting preparatory activities for the funding of potential CFE power generation projects.
The obtuse wording of this large (US$1,168,434) project seems to imply that the project funds an analysis of what went wrong in the attempt to impose the La Parota project. Without additional information, however, it is difficult to know for sure. The project was also listed in the March-April 2002 bulletin on PPP and IDB projects in these terms: “La Parota Dam. Storage of water from the Papagayo river, Guerrero, to produce 765 MW. Construction of a 162 meter high dam and installation of three turbo-generators.”
Although officials have subsequently denied it, Plan Puebla-Panama originally included the construction of 381 hydroelectric dams to supply a regional electrical grid. Among them was a huge dam to be built in La Parota, Guerrero to feed the Acapulco resort area. The 900MW dam on the Papagayo River would flood 17,000 hectares and displace, according to government estimates, some 2-3,000 inhabitants. However, local residents and non-governmental organizations estimate the real figure at closer to 25,000. The majority of those affected are indigenous farmers, who would see their lands and livelihoods taken in the name of development.
Despite being several years in the works, it wasn’t until heavy equipment was sent in 2003 to begin clearing the land for construction that the indigenous and mestizo residents learned of the plan. The Mexican Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) began work on the hydroelectric project in La Parota on communal land held by the Nahuatl indigenous population of Cacahuatepec, Guerrero. The construction implied destroying a hill and stripping the area of trees and vegetation.
When it began work in 2003, the Federal Electricity Commission still had not obtained permission from communities or the required Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) from the Ministry of Environment. Later, despite testimony on the negative environmental impact of the dam, the Ministry authorized the EIS. The report foresees the flooding of 16 towns and the partial flooding of eight towns, resulting in the forced displacement of an estimated 14,756 inhabitants (many experts say it would displace 25,000 people). Despite the risks, the dam project provides no water-basin management plan as required by the national waters law for protecting, improving, conserving, and restoring water basins, aquifers, rivers, and watersheds. It does not specify how to mitigate the effects of flooding 17,000 hectares of forest and farmland. Nor does it contain specific plans for relocation of the 25,000 residents, most farmers and Nahuatl indigenous peoples whose lives and culture are inextricably tied to the land. Moreover, the organizations claim that an additional 75,000 inhabitants will be affected by factors such as increased sedimentation and salinity. As mentioned, residents put the figure of directly displaced persons at around 25,000, currently living in 21 farming communities. They say the disparity between their estimate and the government’s is due to the fact that the government failed to include communities that would be indirectly affected by the water flow. In addition to the project’s underestimation of the human costs of displacement, technical experts have questioned the estimated $800 million project due to its extremely high social, ecological, and economic costs.  The need for the additional generating capacity is not substantiated beyond doubt and the lack of serious studies on environmental and social impacts and seismic risks raise further doubts about the dam. Inhabitants were not consulted about the project, in violation of OIT Convention 169 on the rights of indigenous peoples, UN guidelines on internal displacement, and the IDB’s own guidelines.
Felipe Flores, the spokesman for CECOP (the Council of Ejidos and Communities Opposing the La Parota Dam) and resident of one of the affected communities, Garrapatas, has first-hand experience of the fight to stop La Parota. “They came in the dead of the night in 2003 to set up their machinery and begin work. We only discovered what was going on later. We held an assembly with the three affected communities—Arollo Verde, San Jose, and Garapatas—to see what they thought of the project. Nobody wanted it, but the CFE didn’t care. They refused to give us any information.
“When I began to organize and protest, I became a target. We visited other local towns to drum up support, and suddenly several compańeros were put in prison, and some murdered. The first was killed on the way home from meeting on La Parota with the governor. On Dec. 8, 2009, I was personally threatened. Someone arrived at my door and told me I was the only one left. He said everyone else had been bought off or killed. I was told I was next.”
Pablo Romo of Serapaz, a Mexican organization that promotes peaceful resistance and has been closely involved in the campaign against La Parota, underlined the lack of consultation, stating that, “There was never any contact from the CFE regarding the project. It wasn’t until they held an assembly in 2007, four years after the project began, that the locals discovered what the plan was. Even then, without informing us in advance, the CFE decided to hold the assembly at 6:30 a.m. We had organized a pre-assembly march and we arrived at the assembly to find that we were locked out of the proceedings. Then, other local residents began to emerge from inside the assembly. They had been invited to attend early and ‘approved’ the project, having been bought off with bags of food. When we eventually got in, the locals were given a booklet that contained pictures of the new houses they were to be given. They hadn’t even asked the locals that were to be displaced about what type of house they wanted. Instead, the CFE consulted architects from Guerrero University. It was a joke!”
A local emerges from the assembly with a bag of food
After physically blocking the entry of the equipment to stop the destruction of their lands, local inhabitants formed the CECOP. The group, made up of 5,000 men and women from 39 villages, has blocked construction of the dam for five years, filed and won legal battles to demand adequate public input, and become a key figure in international forums on the environmental and social impact of mega-dams.
The organization has had problems obtaining precise information about the project. The government has not complied with requirements for public participation in decision-making and implementation of the project, the legal and regulatory systems have blocked many of their attempts to challenge imposition of the dam, and both state and federal government agencies have used force to exclude opponents from assemblies on expropriation. Through bribes and payments, the government has divided communities into violent camps of supporters and opponents of the project. Four people have been killed to date and several leaders imprisoned or harassed.
The lack of consultation was not just an affront to the local population, it was a violation of the law. Mexico is a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and other international and regional human rights treaties that oblige it to refrain and protect the population from forced evictions, defined in the ICESCR as “the permanent or temporary removal against their will of individuals, families, and/or communities from the homes and/or land which they occupy, without the provision of, and access to, appropriate forms of legal or other protection.”
A Civil Observation Commission formed to investigate the case noted, “We are worried that the recommendations and observations of the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, specifically referred to in ILO Convention No. 169 on indigenous people, have not been adequately responded to.”
According to a brief prepared by Amnesty International, the La Parota dam megaproject raises concerns about the following human rights: right to information, right to effective legal remedy, right to genuine participation, international human rights law related to development-induced displacement, and violence and intimidation surrounding La Parota project.
Moreover, the UN Commission on Human Rights has found that forced evictions are a gross violation of a range of human rights and that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR), contain protections of “freedom to seek, receive, and impart information”(31) and to “take part in the conduct of public affairs.”
In regard to La Parota the brief by Amnesty International notes that as “a state party to International Labor Organization Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (ILO Convention No. 169), Mexico is generally required to refrain from removing the peoples concerned from the lands which they occupy. As Article 16(2) of the convention states:
“Where the relocation of these peoples is considered necessary as an exceptional measure, such relocation shall take place only with their free and informed consent. Where their consent cannot be obtained, such relocation shall take place only following appropriate procedures established by national laws and regulations, including public inquiries where appropriate, which provide the opportunity for effective representation of the peoples concerned.”
The La Parota case has been presented to the UN High Commissioner on Human rights and the ICESCR has expressed concern:
“about reports that members of indigenous and local communities opposing the construction of La Parota hydroelectric dam or other projects under the Plan Puebla-Panama are not properly consulted and are sometimes forcefully prevented from participating in local assemblies concerning the implementation of these projects. It is also concerned that the construction of La Parota dam would cause the flooding of 17,000 hectares of land inhabited or cultivated by indigenous and local farming communities, that it would lead to environmental depletion, and reportedly displace 25,000 people. It would also, according to the Latin American Water Tribunal, violate the communal land rights of the affected communities, as well as their economic, social, and cultural rights.”(38)
The Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous People included La Parota in the 2007 annual report:
“also victims of abuse and violations in Mexico are indigenous peasant farmers in the state of Guerrero who oppose La Parota dam project in their territory, which the state insists on carrying out without the population’s free consent. A court has instructed the government to desist from the construction of infrastructure works in this area until the conflict has been resolved through negotiation, but the authorities have ignored the injunction and are going ahead with road building as part of the dam project, to which many villagers are opposed.”
In June 2007, residents won an injunction based on a court finding that the local assemblies held to approve the project were not legally carried out. A statement from CECOP said that “The CFE and government had fabricated an assembly for landowners in which the expropriation of land and occupation by the CFE were supposedly authorized.”
Previous large dam projects in Mexico that have displaced indigenous populations have been marked by corruption and failure to provide benefits to local residents. To this day, affected communities fight for promised compensation. In Latin America a growing movement has arisen to block large infrastructure projects promoted by the IDB and other international financial institutions because of the high social and environmental costs. CECOP quickly became a leader in the movement against large megaprojects and is an example and an inspiration to this movement. It sends out a message that it is past time to re-examine huge hydroelectric dam projects that cause irreversible damage to water systems, ecosystems, flora and fauna, and human communities.
Despite the fact that much controversy surrounded the La Parota project, it has continued to appear in IDB internal documents. In July 2009, a meeting on “Strategies, National Programs, and Industries for Climate Change: Opportunities and Challenges for Latin America and the Caribbean,” named La Parota as an ongoing approved project. La Parota is mentioned in the meeting’s documents as a project in progress under the Mexican government’s national climate change program, part-funded by the IDB.
In September 2009, the La Parota project was “postponed” by the CFE. The CFE claimed that in light of the global financial crisis, Mexicans were using less electricity and therefore it was revising its prognoses for future electricity demand. Most observers deem the suspension and review a victory for the dam’s protestors. The CFE was involved in a lengthy and complex legal battle with the protestors, who criticized the project for, among other things, forcing displacement, causing environmental damage, and removing their water source. The CFE also remains involved in two legal processes concerning falsification of documents (relating to allegations that signatures approving the project were forged at “consultation meetings”), crimes against the environment, and building on land without permission. There is also a legal process against the author of the Mexican government’s environmental impact assessment, which approved the project.
The legal proceedings were not the only pressure that the CFE was under. A 2007 report by the UN demanded the immediate suspension of the La Parota project, stating that the project had not satisfied questions relating to the right to information, prior consultation and consent, and human rights. The report also highlighted the need to enforce the right to not be displaced, which is recognized in ILO Convention 169, Article 16, and Articles 18 and 19 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which state:
“(18) Indigenous peoples have the right to enjoy fully all rights established under international labor law and national labor legislation. Indigenous individuals have the right not to be subjected to any discriminatory conditions of labor, employment, or salary.
(19) Indigenous peoples have the right to participate fully, if they so choose, at all levels of decision-making in matters which may affect their rights, lives, and destinies through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision-making institutions.”
The UN report also said that “they deem it necessary that the Mexican government has an exhaustive policy about the possible displacements as a result of development projects, which meets international standards.” In response to the UN’s critique, the Mexican government stated that “The Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) and state authorities respectively have always insisted that the project will only be carried out if the communities approve, fully exercising their freedoms.” Nevertheless, it is clear that the will of the people was something on which the Mexican government and its agencies placed little importance. The UN also criticized the lack of human and social development programs in the zone and urged the government to take action.
In 2006, a non-binding ruling by the Latin American Water Tribunal (Tribunal Latino Americano del Agua) of the project stated that the CFE had begun work on indigenous lands and territories without informing the communities concerned and it criticized the Mexican government for its flawed environmental impact assessment, calling its approval of the project “illegal.” The report also affirms that the project comes at the cost of indigenous rights, given that it entails the expropriation of indigenous land and the displacements of thousands of people. The report concluded that the CFE must not carry out megaprojects that in reality have little to do with renewable energy and have a high social and environmental cost, which is borne by the inhabitants of the area where the project is planned.
Protestors gather outside the La Parota assembly
This is not the first attempt by the CFE to build a dam in La Parota. Similar efforts were spurned by local residents during the 1970s. Local community members believe that the dam project was stopped 30 years ago, and the Mexican government has purposely created conditions to remove inhabitants from the construction area. They report a pattern of cutbacks in government services and resources for the region, as part of a concerted attempt by the government to indirectly force residents to migrate to other regions.
This notion seem to be supported by statistics from the National System of Statistical and Geographical Information (INEGI), which cite Guerrero as the Mexican state with the largest number of internal migrants and the state with the fifth-largest number of external migrants. A study carried out on the town of Los Huajes (pop. 3,500), which is to be affected by La Parota, revealed a steady increase in out-migration from the town in the last 10 years. The report also states that the town does not receive funding at a state or municipal level for any local projects. A case in point is the fact that the town does not have a clinic or health center—the nearest clinic is 30 km away. The previous Municipal President Alberto López Rosas (2003-2005) summed up the government’s attitude by saying, “Why are we going to provide resources, infrastructure, if the town is going to end up flooded anyway?”
Although suspension of the La Parota dam is considered a victory for the local communities and has eliminated the immediate threat of displacement, many residents and others involved in the case believe that the government will try again, perhaps with IDB financing, to impose the hydroelectric megaproject. Many powerful interests, particularly of transnational construction companies, have expressed interest in the contracts.
In fact, the CFE was explicit in its decision to merely postpone the controversial dam project, with a spokesman stating, “It is not cancelled. It is delayed.” The Mexican government has not discarded the possibility of simply waiting until resistance dies down to again promote the dam construction. Neither the government nor the IDB have publicly acknowledged the allegations contained in the CECOP’s platform of opposition. The fear is that both will proceed by further depopulating the area, by cutting off government programs to encourage out-migration, and continue with the privatization of the Mexican electrical system. The latter will create more pressure to build the huge project as a private business and the former will reduce any local opposition.
Romo notes, “They say ’suspension’ but the very definition of that word means that the project is not definitively cancelled. Their attitude is ‘we can wait.’ The opposing communities will now be denied resources, funds, etc. to force them to move.”
The CFE proposes restarting the project in 2018. Government and investors are banking on resistance decreasing as out-migration increases and erodes local communities’ capacity to organize. Rodolfo Chavez, a leader of the CECOP, is skeptical about the suspension. “We have received no official information about this from the CFE. And, our demand is that the project be cancelled once and for all, not postponed!”
IDB seems to be waiting too, since according to internal documents it has not dropped La Parota from its list of active projects. For the local residents, the battle to keep their homes and their fields may not be over yet.
B. El Arcediano, Guadalajara
The Arcediano Dam, a hydroelectric project that would be situated on the Santiago River, is expected to cost US$300m and will have a capacity of 404 million cubic meters. The dam wall will measure 125 meters in height and includes a pumping station to transport water from the bottom of the canyon to the purification plant 580m above.
Promoted by the Jalisco State Water Commission, the dam has come under intense criticism from experts who cite the lack of consultation, the environmental risks, the cost, and displacement as key problems. The project is expected to cost US$300m and will have a capacity of 404 million cubic meters. There are also health issues that relate to the quality of the water which the dam would produce, given that the Santiago River produces high levels of polluted water.
The Santiago River has been nicknamed the “River of Death” because of its macabre reputation. In February 2008 an eight-year-old boy, Miguel Ángel López Rocha, died from arsenic poisoning after falling in the river. Many argue that the project will not be able to solve the problem of unclean water, given that the majority of the money dedicated to the project will be used for its construction, leaving little budget to purify the water.
The project is the brainchild of Alberto Cardenas, former governor of Jalisco, who is now secretary of Agriculture. When Cardenas’s administration first raised the project in Congress, it was met with vociferous opposition, due to the fact that so little of the project’s finances would go toward cleaning the river. The project was later approved by the subsequent administration of Francisco Ramirez Acuńa, with Cardenas calling the protestors of the project “lice and beggars.”
The project then began to displace the inhabitants of Arcediano, the town principally affected by the dam. The social cost of the project is the disappearance of the entire town of Arcediano. After three families refused to leave the town, the Jalisco government proceeded to demolish the house of one of the key activists in the area, María Guadalupe Lara Lara, without prior notice. The demolition took place at five a.m. on the morning of June 20, 2007. Ms. Guadalupe Lara had previously attended the Chamber of Deputies, along with environmental lawyer Pedro León, to request the cancellation of the Arcediano Project.
A 2005 study of the Arcediano project by the Universidad de Guadalajara found that the project was not feasible and that numerous matters involving the environmental and health implications of the project needed to be resolved before the project could go forward. The Arcediano project does not guarantee the city’s inhabitants access to clean water—a basic human right, and it has also displaced more than 30 families from their homes. The canyon where the dam will be built is also home to flora and fauna, as well as many endangered species, which would be negatively affected by the project. There are also 400 species of plant in the area marked for construction. The area also functions as a unique ecosystem for the surrounding communities, given that it serves as both a climate regulator for Guadalajara as well as naturally limiting the city’s growth. Indeed the canyon was declared a “Protected Natural Area” by the Guadalajara City Council in 1997.
The Jalisco Water Commission has come under criticism over its selection process when approving the Arcediano project. Fifty-three alternative projects were presented to the commission in 2001, and were rejected without appropriate justification. The 2005 feasibility study also found inconsistencies in the evaluation methodology used for selecting Arcediano. The study states that the main alternative project, Loma Larga, was incorrectly disregarded. There is also a lack of clarity over the precise cost of the project, given that there are inconsistencies in the budget and that the risks carried by the project were not factored into the initial cost projections. The Universidad de Guadalajara study also stated that the Environmental Impact Assessment was inadequate and that an appropriate evaluation of health risks is necessary.
Guadalupe Riviera of the NGO “Un Salto de Vida,” which campaigns for a cleaner Santiago River, spoke of the government’s ignorance when attempting to implement the project. “The government doesn’t listen to us when we say the river is contaminated. How is it possible that it is building the Arcediano Dam on the banks of a highly contaminated river?” She also spoke of the lack of consultation for those affected by the construction, commenting that, “The people found out about the Arcediano project when the companies arrived to uproot them from their land. The government wants to flood these towns so that they disappear.” Virginia Vasquez, a resident of Salto, situated on the Santiago River, spoke of the dangers of building a dam there. “There are people dying of cancer, liver problems, heart attacks, etc. My brother-in-law died last year because of the contamination. It is very serious.”
The IDB has behaved in customary opaque fashion with regard to the Arcediano Dam. There is no mention of the project on their website, and many NGOs are unsure of who is financing the project. Nevertheless, an IDB document from June 2009 reveals that part of an IDB loan, ostensibly for a “multi-phase program for investment in and strengthening of institutions and financing for states and municipalities,” has been diverted to an environmental study of the Arcediano Dam. This document was subsequently taken off-line.
Mexican government documents reveal that the IDB has heavily financed the Arcediano Dam project. In a tender document, the Jalisco More...
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Real News: The U.S. Paid Money to Support Hugo Banzer's 1971 Coup By Robert P. Baird
Real News: The U.S. Paid Money to Support Hugo Banzer's 1971 Coup
By Robert P. Baird
For nearly four decades, there’s been an open question about the 1971 coup that brought dictator Hugo Banzer Suárez to power in Bolivia: was the U.S. government involved? Thanks to newly declassified documents, we now have an answer.
Banzer was a dictator of Bolivia from 1971-8 and a democratically elected president from 1997-2001. His three-day coup in August 1971 was significant not only for the fighting that accompanied it, which left 110 dead and 600 wounded, but for the seven-year regime that followed, one of the most repressive in Bolivia’s history. Under Banzer’s rule, more than 14,000 Bolivians were arrested without a judicial order, more than 8,000 were tortured—with electricity, water, beatings—and more than 200 were executed or disappeared. (I’m writing a long article about the legacy of the regime for Narrative Magazine. It will hopefully be out by the end of the year.)
American support for Banzer before and after the coup was never in doubt. He had trained at the School of the Americas in Panama and the Armored Cavalry School in Texas, and in the late 60s served as military attaché in Washington. In the five months after he ousted left-wing dictator General Juan José Torres, Banzer was rewarded with $50 million in grants and aid from the Nixon Administration.
But while U.S. support for Banzer during the coup has been widely assumed among Bolivians and Latin American historians, the only proof (until now) was been a Washington Post report published a week after the event, which said that U.S. Air Force Major Robert J. Lundin had advised the plotters and lent them a long-range radio. The report was never substantiated, however, and the State Department denied it immediately, asserting unequivocally that the U.S. played no part in the overthrow of Torres.
A collection of declassified documents recently released* by the same State Department proves that this denial was not only incorrect, but a lie: the Nixon Administration, acting with the full knowledge of the State Department, authorized nearly half a million dollars—”coup money,” according to the ambassador in La Paz—for the politicians and military officers plotting against Torres. The CIA handed at least some of this money over to the coup’s leaders in the days leading up to Banzer’s seizure of power.
Minutes from a July 8, 1971 meeting of the 40 Committee (an executive-branch group chaired by Henry Kissinger and tasked with oversight of covert operations) included discussion of a CIA proposal to give $410,000 to a group of opposition politicians and military leaders, money that they knew would be used to overthrow Torres. (Under Secretary of State U. Alexis Johnson: “what we are actually organizing is a coup in itself, isn’t it?”) Though the committee decided to wait to hear from Ambassador Ernest Siracusa (he opposed the measure) the plan was ultimately approved. The same day that the coup began in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, an NSC staffer reported to Kissinger that the CIA had transferred money to two high-ranking members of the opposition.
The CIA proposal had its roots in a June conversation between Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, when they decided that Torres’s overtures to the Bolivian left wing had gone too far:
Kissinger: We are having a major problem in Bolivia, too. And—
Nixon: I got that. Connally mentioned that. What do you want to do about that?
Kissinger: I’ve told [CIA Deputy Director of Plans Thomas] Karamessines to crank up an operation, post-haste. Even the Ambassador there, who’s been a softy, is now saying that we must start playing with the military there or the thing is going to go down the drain.
Kissinger: That’s due in on Monday.
Nixon: What does Karamessines think we need? A coup?
Kissinger: We’ll see what we can, whether—in what context. They’re going to squeeze us out in another two months. They’ve already gotten rid of the Peace Corps, which is an asset, but now they want to get rid of USIA and military people. And I don’t know whether we can even think of a coup, but we have to find out what the lay of the land is there.
The CIA was almost certainly correct that regardless of U.S. involvement “an attempt to oust Torres in the next few months, if not sooner, [was] inevitable.” But even though they recognized that supporting the coup was “a high risk operation,” they decided they might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb:
The U.S. Government will be the logical culprit in the minds of Bolivians. Moreover, we fully expect the CIA to come under fire and accusations of CIA involvement seem inevitable. Since the CIA has been accused regularly (and falsely) of innumerable plots and activities in Bolivia, one more accusation should not cause excessive public reaction.
On August 26, three days after Banzer claimed power, Kissinger and Nixon spoke on the telephone. Kissinger briefed the President on his recent meeting with Vietnam POW wives and the President told Kissinger that “the trouble with Reagan is quite clear. He really is simplistic.” At the end of the conversation, Kissinger noted, “In Bolivia there has been a coup. It has brought on a right-wing government.”
Nixon’s response? “What about Chile.”
*In July 2009 the State Department Released volume E-10 of Foreign Relations of the United States 1968-1972, but withheld the Bolivia chapter until declassification could be completed. The Bolivia documents were released sometime between March 1 of this year (when I last checked the FRUS website) and now. As far as I can tell, no one else has noted the appearance or significance of the Bolivia documents.
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VENEZUELA: The Imperfect Revolution by Eva Golinger
Venezuela: The Imperfect Revolution
By Eva Golinger - The Chavez Code, May 25th 2010
If you come to Venezuela with glistening eyes, expecting to see the revolution of a romantic and passionate novel, don't be disappointed when the complexities of reality burst your bubble. While revolution does withhold a sense of romanticism, it's also full of human error and the grit of everyday life in a society "a nation" undertaking the difficult and tumultuous process of total transformation.
Nothing is perfect here, in the country sitting on the world's largest oil reserves. But everything is fascinating and intriguing, and the changes from past to present become more visible and tangible every day.
After 100 years of abandonment, as President Hugo Chavez puts it, the Venezuelan people have awoken and begun the gargantuan task of taking power and building a system of social and economic justice. But it's easier said than done in a culture embedded with corrupt values, resulting from the nation's vast oil wealth, combined with an overall feeling of entitlement. The bureaucracy is massive and often intimidating, as the people, including the President himself, struggle to eradicate it every day, and replace it with a more horizontal political and economic model.
>From the outside, it's easy to criticize Venezuela. Inflation is high, the economy is in a difficult place, although growing, and relations with countries such as Russia, China and Iran are often painful for foreigners to comprehend. Media portrays much of the power in the nation as concentrated in the hands of one man, Hugo Chavez, and rarely highlights the thousands of positive achievements and successes his government has obtained during the past ten years. Distortion and manipulation reign amongst international public opinion regarding human rights, freedom of expression and political views opposing those of President Chavez, and few media outlets portray a balanced vision of Venezuela today.
While it's true that there is awful inflation in Venezuela, much of it has been caused by business owners, large-scale private distributors and producers, import-exporters and the economic elite that seek to destabilize and overthrow the Chavez administration. They sell dollars on the black market at pumped up rates and speculate and hike the prices of regular consumer products to provoke panic and desperation among the public, all with the goal of forcing Chavez's ouster. And despite ongoing economic sabotage, the economy has still grown substantially in comparison to other nations in the region. In fact, according to the neoliberal International Monetary Fund (IMF), Venezuela is the only South American nation to forecast economic growth this year.
How do you build a socialist revolution in an oil economy? It's not easy. The Chavez government promotes a green agenda, but at the same time, the streets of Caracas "the capital" are still littered with stinky garbage and the air is contaminated with black smoke emissions from cars and make-shift buses that go uncontrolled and unregulated. Part of the problem is government regulation, but most of the problem is social consciousness. Revolution is impossible if the people aren't on board.
So, the government gives out millions of free, cold-energy saving lightbulbs, to replace the over-consuming yellow ones, and programs are underway to allow a free trade-in of diesel consuming cars for new natural gas vehicles. The Chavez administration is funding solar energy exploration and research institutes, building wind energy units along the northern Caribbean coast and has implemented a major environmental conservation campaign nationwide. Part of this incredible effort resulted from a horrific six-month long drought that pushed the nation to energy and water rationing, causing countrywide blackouts that weren't well received. Ironically, one of the world's largest oil producers is more than 70% dependent on hydroelectric power for internal energy consumption, thanks to the governments past, which only were interested in selling the oil abroad and not using it to improve the lives of their own citizens.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
The foremost achievement of the Bolivarian Revolution, as it is called in Venezuela, taking the namesake of liberator Simon Bolivar, has been the inclusion of a mass majority, previously excluded and invisible, in the nation's politics and economic decisions. What does this mean? It means that today, millions of Venezuelans have a visible identity and role in nation-making. It means that community members "without regard to class, education or status" are actively encouraged to participate in policy decisions on local and even national matters. Community members, organized in councils, make decisions on how local resources are allocated. They decide if monies are spent on schools, roads, water systems, transportation or housing. They have oversight of spending, can determine if projects are advancing adequately, and even can determine where the workforce should come from; i.e. local workers vs. outside contractors. In essence, this is a true example of an empowered people" or how power is transferred from a governmentť to the people.
For the first time in Venezuela's history, every voice is valued, every voice has the possibility of being heard. And because of this, people actually want to participate. Community media outlets have sprung up by the hundreds, after previously being illegal and shunned by prior governments. New newspapers, magazines, radio programs and even television shows reflect a reality and color of Venezuela that formerly, the elite chose to ignore and exclude. Still, a majority of mass media remains in the hands of a powerful economic elite that uses its capacity to distort and manipulate reality and promote ongoing attempts to undermine the Chavez government. Lest we not forget the mass media's role in the April 2002 coup d'etat that briefly ousted President Chavez from power, and a subsequent economic sabotage in December of that same year, that imposed a media blackout on information nationwide.
Despite claims by private media outlets alleging violations of freedom of expression, Venezuela remains a nation with one of the world's most thriving free and independent press. Here, almost anything goes, even plots and plans to kill the President or bring the nation's economy to its knees; all broadcast live on television, radio, or in print.
The contradictions of building a socialist revolution in a capitalist world are evident here every day. The same self-proclaimed revolutionary, bearing a red shirt, wants to buy your dollars on the black market at an elevated rate. You can get killed in the streets of Caracas for a Blackberry; don't even think of whipping out an iPhone in public. Even President Chavez himself now fashions a Blackberry to keep his Twitter account up to date. Chavez has politicizedť Twitter, and turned it into a social tool. His account, the most followed in Venezuela, receives thousands of requests and messages daily for everything from jobs, to housing to complaints about bureaucracy and inefficient governance. He even set up a special team of 200 people dedicated to processing the tweets, and he himself responds to as many as he can. Ironically, Chavez has found a way to reconnect with his people in a virtual world.
Deals with Russia, China, Iran, India, European nations and even US corporations are diversifying Venezuela's trade partners, ensuring technological transfer to aid in national development and progress, and opening up Venezuela's oil-focused economy. Some question Chavez's deals with certain countries or companies, but the truth is, today, Venezuela's economy is stronger and more diverse than ever before. Satellites have been launched, automobile factories built and even the agricultural industry has been revived thanks to Chavez's vision of foreign policy. When beforehand, relations with foreign nations were based on oil supply and dollar input, today they are founded on the principles of integration, solidarity and cooperation, and most importantly, the transfer of technology to ensure Venezuela's development.
Revolution is not an easy task. What is happening in Venezuela is possibly one of the most socially and politically compelling and challenging experiences in history. Massive changes are taking place on every level of society "economic, political, cultural and social" and everyone is involved. There have been no national curfews, states of emergencies, killings, disappearances, persecutions, political prisoners or other forms of repression imposed under Chavez's reign, despite the coup d'etat, economic sabotages, electoral interventions, assassination attempts and other forms of subversion and destabilization that have attempted to overthrow his government during the past ten years. This is an inclusionary revolution, whether or not everyone wants to accept that fact.
Washington's continued efforts to undermine Venezuela's democracy through funding opposition campaigns and actions with over $50 million USD during the past seven years, or supporting coups and assassination plots against President Chavez, while at the same time pumping up military forces in the region, have all failed; so far. But, they will continue. Venezuela "like it or not" is on an irrevocable path to revolution. The people have awoken and power is being redistributed. The task at hand now is to prevent corrupt forces within from destroying the new revolutionary model being built.
So while things may not be perfect in Venezuela, it's time to take off the rose-colored glasses and see revolution for what it is: the trying, alluring, arduous, demanding and thrilling task of forging a just humanity. That's the Venezuela of today.
Eva Golinger is an award-winning author and attorney. Her first book, The Chavez Code, is a best seller published in six languages and is presently being made into a feature film. Her blog is www.chavezcode.com
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