Latin America News Round-up
August 21, 2012
Colombia Ex-General Pleads Guilty to Paramilitary Ties
For the latest news and developments on Haiti, please see CEPR's blog, "Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch."
For archives of past Round-ups, please click here.
Brazil and Southern Cone
Brazil’s Rural Social Movements to Work Together. EFE
U.S. Court Upholds Bondholder Access to Argentina Bank Records. Dow Jones
Argentina wants foreigners, 16-year-olds to vote. AP
Japan follows EU into WTO litigation against Argentina. Reuters
Paraguay bets on genetically modified soy, corn. Reuters
Northern Andean Region
Carter Center says it won't witness Venezuela vote. AP
Chavez Lead Narrows in Latest Datanalisis Poll in Venezuela. Bloomberg
Venezuela pledges action after 25 die in prison riot. BBC
Venezuela PdVSA Takes Steps to Speed Up Orinoco Development –Chavez. Dow Jones
Colombia Gen Santoyo pleads guilty to paramilitary ties. BBC
Western Andean Region
Ecuador president warns UK not to enter embassy to seize Julian Assange. The Guardian
Lawyer Accuses Chevron of Extortion. Courthouse News Service
Bolivia's child workers in daily struggle for life. AFP
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean
Mexico murders almost triple since 2005. AFP
Mexican wave fizzles out in fraud fight. Financial Times
Belize Nears Default After Missing $23 Million Bond Payment. Bloomberg
Victims Fight for Justice After DEA Operation Leaves Four Dead in Honduras. Real News Network
Brazil and Southern Cone [contents]
Brazil’s Rural Social Movements to Work Together
EFE. August 20, 2012
BRASILIA – The social movements that are acting in Brazil’s rural zones to defend peasants, Indians, fishermen and slave descendants announced Monday that they will unify their demands so that they have greater strength in numbers.
The union was announced at a press conference of leaders of several organizations in Brasilia within the framework of a meeting of rural workers and peoples.
The leaders said the aim of the meeting is to agree upon a single action program for rural development that will serve as an alternative model to export-driven agriculture.
Key elements of the program include agrarian reform, the strengthening of family farmers, the demarcation of Indian reservations and the lands of slave descendants, the leaders said.
Attending the meeting are some 5,000 representatives from groups such as the MST Landless Movement, the Contag farmworkers federation, Via Campesina, the Small Farmers Movement and the Organization of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil.
The representative of Via Campesina, former MST spokesman Joao Pedro Stedile, said that Brazil urgently needs to reorganize its rural production model and stop giving incentives to the huge estates producing commodities for the global market such as soybeans, corn, meats, sugar and ethanol, among others.
“We want a reorganization of agriculture so that we can produce healthy foods ... without agrochemicals for the Brazilian people,” Stedile said.
“For that, it’s necessary to give production conditions to the poor person and to the landless peasant. In the monocultivation agroexporter model, which is predatory and exclusive, there is no room for the poor,” he added.
“No program of fighting poverty will be successful without including agrarian reform and changes in the ownership of the land,” the secretary of agrarian policy for Contag, William Clementino, said.
While the big farmers send their production abroad, family farmers generate 75 percent of the food consumed by Brazilians, he said.
The organizers of the meeting are planning to end their activities here on Wednesday with a march to the Planalto Palace, where they hope to present to President Dilma Rousseff a document that includes their requests. EFE
U.S. Court Upholds Bondholder Access to Argentina Bank Records
Georgia Wells. Dow Jones. August 20, 2012
The Argentine government lost an appeal Monday to block bondholder access to documents from two banks about the country's assets outside the United States.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said in an opinion Monday Argentina couldn't "quash" the subpoena issued to Bank of America for information about Argentine assets because the subpoenas don't infringe on Argentina's sovereign immunity, as the country had claimed.
Argentina defaulted on about $100 billion debt in 2001. Creditors that refused to participate in a series of debt restructuring offers, including NML Capital Ltd., sued the government and, with limited success, have sought to recover their defaulted investments by trying to seize some of the country's offshore assets. A key part of achieving that goal involves identifying such assets through a process known as discovery.
Backed by earlier court rulings in its favor, NML Capital, a unit of hedge fund Elliott Management, undertook one part of that discovery process by serving subpoenas on the two banks to gain an understanding of Argentina's "financial circulatory system," according to the opinion.
One of the factors that makes it difficult for creditors to recover money from a country that has defaulted on its debt is the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which protects nations' overseas assets from such legal proceedings. However, Argentina had waived its sovereign immunity for these bonds in an effort to compel investors to buy the country's debt considering the default and outstanding payments. Partly on that basis, the Appeals Court ruled in the bondholders' favor Monday.
"Argentina maintains that its property abroad is categorically immune from attachment, and that the district court cannot order discovery into those assets," the opinion said.
The ruling said that once a court has jurisdiction over a foreign country, like Argentina, the country is to be treated like any other litigant. However, the ruling extends only to the discovery of Argentina's assets, and not the attachment, or seizure, of any sovereign property.
"Because the district court ordered only discovery, not the attachment of sovereign property, and because that discovery is directed at third-party banks, Argentina's sovereign immunity is not affected," the opinion said.
An Elliott Management spokesman declined to comment. Jonathan Blackman, a lawyer for Argentina, couldn't be reached for comment.
Write to Georgia Wells at email@example.com
Argentina wants foreigners, 16-year-olds to vote
MICHAEL WARREN. AP. August 20, 2012
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Argentina is rethinking what it means to be a citizen, proposing radical changes that would have both foreigners and 16-year-olds vote to determine who should run the country.
President Cristina Fernandez's legislative powerbrokers say the proposed electoral laws will enhance democracy and challenge the world to treat voting as a universal human right. Opponents call it a naked attempt to prolong the power of a decade-old government that has showered public money on migrants and young people.
With approval likely in a Congress controlled by the president's allies, the laws would expand Argentina's electorate by 3 million voters, or roughly 10 percent, and make it among the world's most permissive countries in terms of voting rights, allowing foreigners with two years of permanent residency to cast ballots.
"It's very important - there are so many of us here in Buenos Aires," said thrilled migrant Karen Gonzalez, a 48-year-old nanny whose family now includes two grandchildren in her adopted city. "I've been here for more than 20 years and I love Argentina. I'm Paraguayan and I love my country, too, but I owe so much to Argentina, so I want to vote."
While welcoming immigrants into polling stations would add 1 million voters, lowering the voting age from 18 to 16 would add 2 million more.
Very few nations trust people still in their adolescence to help choose their nation's leaders. Austria, Brazil, Cuba and Nicaragua also start voting at age 16.
When Mauro Eichmann looks around at his fellow 16-year-olds in his suburban Buenos Aires high school, he doesn't see anyone responsible enough to vote for president.
"I don't think we're old enough to decide who should run the country," said Eichmann, who turned 16 in March and is studying economics and business administration. "I know there are many good kids, but many others aren't prepared."
Another group of 16-year-olds, texting between classes downtown, agreed they didn't know enough yet to vote. After all, they said, teenagers in Argentina's capital can't even drive or buy alcohol until they turn 18.
Just one of them was willing to speak out against his peers and endorse the proposal to lower the voting age.
Voting "would motivate young people to participate in politics," Francisco Schkolnik told The Associated Press in a text message, adding that he'd vote for "Cristinismo."
That's just what this government is hoping for, but it remains to be seen whether the new voters could swing next year's congressional elections or the 2015 presidential vote in favor of Cristina Fernandez's picks for public office.
"This government has a well-established strategy of capturing new voters and new activists under the umbrella of a new way of doing politics," political analyst Graciela Romer observed. "But the elections are a long way off."
Even more controversial is the plan to allow noncitizens to vote, an idea still foreign to most of the world's democracies.
Very few nations give all noncitizens with permanent residency the right to vote in national elections. Chile allows it after five years; Uruguay after 15. Australia used to allow it, but now denies it for new immigrants. Other countries grant it only to certain nationalities, or people with significant wealth or property.
In the United States, Democrats and Republicans spend millions fighting over legal and bureaucratic hurdles that prevent even citizens from voting, and foreigners lacking permanent residency can be deported for simply donating to a campaign.
Only New Zealand grants noncitizens such rights more quickly, after just one year of legal permanent residency.
"New Zealand is the most expansive, but of course its number of resident aliens is quite small. Argentina would be far more significant," said political scientist David Earnest, an expert on international suffrage laws.
Argentina's plan drew more than 1,700 angry comments this week in the opposition newspaper La Nacion, many with a racist tinge, complaining that their European culture has been hijacked to serve a populist experiment.
"It's completely absurd that foreign nationals would have the power to define the destiny of the Argentines," Vicente Rojas wrote in his anti-government blog, Code Red. "We all know the real point of this would-be law, which will surely be presented as Latin Americanist, integrationist and even with poetic images, when in reality all it seeks is the continuity of this government."
Argentina counts more than 1,806,000 foreign-born people among its 40 million inhabitants, just 4.5 percent of the population, much less than in the early 1900s, when nearly one in three people in Argentina had just left Europe. The 2010 census showed 77 percent of current migrants came from neighboring countries - mostly Paraguay, followed by Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Uruguay and Brazil.
Most of the migrants live in and around the capital, in slums or working-class districts where the left wing of the ruling Peronist party has traditionally drawn its strongest support.
While many nations turn a cold shoulder to illegal immigrants, this government has made a priority of integrating them into Argentine society, expediting their documents and including them in a multibillion-dollar program of cash handouts for each poor child in school. The warm welcome has encouraged about 130,000 migrants to obtain permanent residency each year.
"Argentina has given me so many things: It gave me work, it took care of me, it gave me shelter," said Gonzalez, the nanny, who has long been frustrated that her Argentine husband can vote, but not her. "I would vote for this president. I think a lot of other Paraguayans would, too."
The measures' main sponsor is the president's former Cabinet chief, Sen. Anibal Fernandez, who says he aims to do nothing less than "break the link between citizenship and nationality."
"If you recognize that collective decisions will be applied to foreigners, logic indicates that their opinions should be considered," he wrote to his fellow senators.
Earnest, who teaches at Old Dominion University in Virginia, said the Argentine lawmaker has it right, that 20th-century concepts of citizenship are outmoded in a world where technology and a truly global economy have challenged political boundaries.
"In this era of globalization, the people's sense of belonging has become pluralized. People hold multiple affiliations," he said. "This practice of granting voting rights to noncitizens is really an indicator of a fundamental change in terms of what we think of citizenship."
Japan follows EU into WTO litigation against Argentina
Reuters. August 21, 2012
GENEVA (Reuters) - Japan has launched a complaint at the World Trade Organization over Argentina's import licensing rules, a trade official with knowledge of the case said on Tuesday.
Japan's complaint follows similar litigation brought by the European Union in May. About 20 countries have criticized Argentina's rules at the WTO, contributing to a sharp worsening of its international trade relationships since President Cristina Fernandez decided to seize control of oil firm YPF from its parent, Spain's Repsol, in April.
(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Jon Boyle)
Paraguay bets on genetically modified soy, corn
Reuters. August 20, 2012
Aug 20 (Reuters) - Paraguay will approve Monsanto's genetically modified Roundup Ready 2 soybean seeds before the end of this year along with new corn technology aimed at improving the country's competitiveness as a grains exporter, a state official said.
Paraguay collected 4.3 million tonnes of soy in the 2011/12 season, during which yields were reduced by drought. The South American country expects its soy output to jump to 8 million tonnes in the 2012/13 season, thanks in part to the new seeds, according to Agriculture Ministry trade chief Santiago Bertoni.
"Roundup Ready 2 is 90 percent there," in terms of being approved for sowing in Paraguay, Bertoni said, predicting that the official OK will be granted in time for farmers to use the new technology when this year's planting starts in October.
"With this step we will improve the technology balance between ourselves and other countries, improving our ability to compete," he added. "The 2013 harvest will include fields planted with these seeds."
As a soy exporter, Paraguay comes in a distant fourth after powerhouse suppliers such as the United States, Brazil and Argentina. With global food demand expected by the United Nations to double by 2050, grains-producers are exploring genetically modified technology in a bid to maximize profits.
Paraguay is also headed toward approving corn technology from Monsanto and Dow Chemical, Bertoni said.
Some environmental groups have raised concerns about genetically modified, or GMO, foods and have accused agribusiness of pursuing profit without concern for possible environmental and human health hazards.
But supplier nations are eager to use new technology to maximize farm profits, and tax intake from the sector, as a way of bolstering their finances against fallout from Europe's debt crisis and global economic sluggishness.
Northern Andean Region [contents]
Carter Center says it won't witness Venezuela vote
IAN JAMES. AP. August 21, 2012
CARACAS, Venezuela -- The Carter Center said on Monday that it declined an invitation from Venezuela's National Electoral Council to have a team at the country's Oct. 7 presidential election.
The Atlanta-based Carter Center was among the organizations that sent observer missions to monitor Venezuela's last presidential vote in 2006, along with the European Union and the Organization of American States. Venezuelan electoral authorities have since stopped inviting full international observer missions and have instead asked some foreign individuals to witness voting in smaller-scale "accompaniment" visits.
The Carter Center said in a statement that the council invited it to "form an intermediate option" and send a small group of experts to join in pre-election audits and be present on voting day. But the organization said it received the invitation too late "to evaluate it and organize the necessary experts and financing."
"My understanding is that the (electoral council) has come to the conclusion that they no longer need international observation to give confidence to the process," said Jennifer McCoy, director of the center's Americas program. "Since 2006 they've been in consultation with the political parties to establish a number of security mechanisms and audits with the participation of the political parties to give confidence to the process."
McCoy said in a telephone interview that Venezuelan domestic observer groups, political parties and voters themselves will have a number of ways to participate in monitoring the vote.
President Hugo Chavez is seeking another six-year term in the election, and is facing a challenge from opposition leader Henrique Capriles.
Venezuela isn't alone in Latin America in not hosting full international observer missions. Argentina and Brazil don't have a tradition of inviting international observers, McCoy said.
"For the international community, the difficulty comes if there are competing interpretations of what happened ... if different parties within the countries do not agree on the results," McCoy said. "Then it's just more difficult for the international community to know how to react."
Chavez Lead Narrows in Latest Datanalisis Poll in Venezuela
Daniel Cancel. Bloomberg. August 20, 2012
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s lead narrowed in the latest poll from Caracas-based Datanalisis seven weeks ahead of October’s national election, according to Jefferies Group Inc.
Chavez had 46.8 percent support compared with 34.2 percent for opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski, showing that his lead narrowed to 12.5 points from 15.3 percentage points in June, Siobhan Morden, head of Latin American fixed- income strategy at Jefferies in New York wrote today in a note to clients. The poll showed that 18.8 percent of those surveyed were undecided, according to the note.
The poll of 1,288 people interviewed between July 16 and Aug. 9 had a margin of error of 2.73 percentage points, according to a person who received the poll and declined to be identified because the survey is private. Luis Vicente Leon, President of Datanalisis, declined to comment on the poll and said that the next public poll will be presented in Caracas on Sept. 25.
Surveys have varied widely in the run-up to the Oct. 7 election where Chavez is seeking to extend his 13-year-rule through 2019. Consultores 21, a Caracas-based polling company, said in June that the two candidates are locked in a technical tie, while Hinterlaces said Aug. 16 that Chavez leads Capriles by 18 percentage points.
Chavez, 58, increased government spending 34 percent in the first half of 2012 from a year ago and is promoting social programs for the elderly and children in extreme poverty. The surge in spending and a 17.6 percent expansion in the construction industry in the second quarter helped the economy grow 5.4 percent from a year earlier.
Capriles, a 40-year-old former governor of Miranda state, has visited more than 150 towns across the country as he tries to close the gap on Chavez.
Venezuelan assets may see some “positive upside” on the closing gap in the opinion poll “as markets assign a higher probability to regime change,” Jefferies’ Morden said.
The yield on the benchmark 9.25 percent bonds due in 2027 fell 2 basis points, or 0.02 percentage point, to 11.09 percent at 10:17 a.m. in Caracas, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The bond’s price rose 0.13 cents to 86.68 cents on the dollar.
Venezuelan bonds have returned 24.4 percent this year, the second-highest in emerging markets after Ivory Coast, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s EMBIG index. Government securities and bonds sold by state-oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA have rallied as investors look to higher-yielding assets amid near zero interest rates in the U.S. and Europe and on the back of high oil prices.
Venezuela depends on oil for 95 percent of export revenue.
To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Cancel in Caracas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Philip Sanders at email@example.com.
Venezuela pledges action after 25 die in prison riot
BBC. August 21, 2012
Venezuelan authorities say all steps are being taken to prevent a repeat of a bloody prison riot that is now known to have left 25 people dead.
Fighting broke out at the Yare I prison in Miranda state on Sunday while hundreds of relatives were visiting.
Prisons Minister Iris Varela said there would be a full inquiry.
Violence between rival gangs is common in Venezuela's overcrowded jails and so far this year more than 300 people have died, a local rights group says.
Ms Varela said the latest violence was believed to have started when a shot was fired during a discussion between inmates.
She said 25 people were killed and 43 others injured.
"We are taking all the necessary steps to avoid a repeat of such an incident, and we are proceeding with the disarming of the prison population," Ms Varela said.
Among the measures, she said, was the installation of body scanners in some prisons.
Addressing wider concerns about Venezuela's prison system, Ms Varela has said that violent inmates were "a minority who maintain control through terror".
The majority of prisoners were peaceable, "want to pay off the debt they owe and return to their lives", she said.
According to the non-governmental Venezuelan Prisons Observatory (VPO), more than 50,000 inmates are housed in prisons built to hold 14,000.
The state of the nation's jails is a politically sensitive issue, ahead of October's presidential election.
President Hugo Chavez created the prisons ministry last year to push through reforms of the system after a major uprising at El Rodeo jail outside Caracas.
Mr Chavez has previously said that the prison system was neglected long before he took office in 1999.
Reacting to the news from Yare, Mr Chavez's main rival, Henrique Capriles, wrote on Twitter that the transformation of the prisons was "another big lie by the government".
Venezuela PdVSA Takes Steps to Speed Up Orinoco Development -Chavez
Kejal Vyas. Dow Jones. August 21, 2012
CARACAS--Venezuelan state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, or PdVSA, Monday night signed accords with two other state companies intended to help speed up development of the country's Orinoco heavy oil belt and increase the country's oil production, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said in a televised address.
PdVSA plans to transfer a 10% stake in heavy oil upgrader Petropiar to state mining firm Corporacion Venezolana de Guayana, or CVG, and form a new oil company named Petro San Felix, Mr. Chavez said, without explaining how it would boost oil production.
The move will reduce PdVSA's stake in Petropiar, which produces 150,000 barrels a day of crude oil, to 60%. U.S. oil major Chevron Corp. (>> Chevron Corporation) owns 30%.
Mr. Chavez, who faces a tough battle for re-election in October, has pledged to increase Venezuela's oil production to 3.5 million barrels a day by the end of the year from 3 million at the start of the year.
Critics have noted that PdVSA has repeatedly failed to meet the lofty output goals laid out by Mr. Chavez during his 13-year presidency because the company has diverted revenue to government social programs instead of investing in production projects.
In February, Mr. Chavez and officials from China's Citic Group appeared on Venezuelan state television to sign agreements that involved, among other things, the Chinese company's "participation" in Petropiar. Venezuelan officials later said they planned to sell a 10% stake in Petropiar to Citic, but Mr. Chavez made no mention of that Monday.
ConocoPhillips (>> ConocoPhillips) held a stake in Petropiar until its stake was nationalized in 2007.
Mr. Chavez said PdVSA also had signed a steel-supply agreement with state steel producer Siderurgica del Orinoco, or Sidor, and the steel would be used to develop the Orinico project.
PdVSA needs around 1.2 million tons of steel in each of the next five years to develop Orinoco, at a total cost of around $3.6 billion, he said.
"I'm confident that the [Sidor] workers will be able to meet this goal," he said.
Mr. Chavez said PdVSA will pay $1 billion to Sidor in advance to help the steel company boost production.
-Write to Kejal Vyas at firstname.lastname@example.org
Colombia Gen Santoyo pleads guilty to paramilitary ties
BBC. August 21, 2012
Gen Mauricio Santoyo in a November 2007 file photo Gen Santoyo was former President Alvaro Uribe's head of security
A retired Colombian police general, who served as the security chief for the then-president Alvaro Uribe, has pleaded guilty to having links with right-wing paramilitaries.
Gen Mauricio Santoyo said he had supported the United Self Defence Forces of Colombia, which is listed as a terrorist organisation in the US.
Last month, Gen Santoyo handed himself in to the US authorities.
They had charged him with conspiracy to smuggle drugs into the US.
Prosecutor Neil McBride said Gen Santoyo pleaded guilty to "aiding a terrorist group" but denied the drug trafficking charges.
In his plea agreement, Gen Santoyo said that from 2001 to 2008 he took bribes from the United Self Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) in exchange for helping them evade police operations against them.
He admitted tipping the group off about impending arrests planned by Colombian police and also US Drug Enforcement Administration agents.
From 2002 to 2005, Gen Santoyo served as the chief of security for the Colombian president at the time, Alvaro Uribe.
Speaking last month when Gen Santoyo turned himself in, Mr Uribe said he had never pushed for the general to be made his chief of security.
Last year, Alvaro Uribe's cousin and close ally, Mario Uribe, was found guilty of having links to the AUC but the former president has vehemently denied having any links to the group.
The AUC committed some of the worst mass killings in Colombia in the 1980s and 1990s as part of their campaign to combat left-wing guerrillas and anyone they suspected of being sympathisers.
As part of a 2003 peace deal brokered by Alvaro Uribe's government, most paramilitary leaders surrendered and demobilised tens of thousands of their men in exchange for reduced jail terms and protection from extradition.
However, the Colombian authorities have extradited more than a dozen former paramilitary leaders to the US to face drug trafficking charges since 2008, saying they had violated the terms of the peace deal.
Gen Santoyo is expected to be sentenced on 30 November.
Western Andean Region [contents]
Ecuador president warns UK not to enter embassy to seize Julian Assange
Lizzy Davies. The Guardian. August 20, 2012
The Ecuadorean president has warned Britain not to attempt to enter his country's embassy in London to seize Julian Assange, claiming that to do so would be an act of political suicide that would leave the UK's diplomatic premises vulnerable the world over.
Speaking on state television days after his government announced it had decided to grant the WikiLeaks founder political asylum, Rafael Correa showed little sign of seeking to ease tensions with Britain, which threatened last week to use an obscure piece of legislation to enter the Ecuadorean embassy and arrest the Australian.
"I think it would be suicidal for the United Kingdom," he said, according to the Spanish news agency Efe. "After that, the diplomatic premises of [the UK] in other territories could be violated all over the world." Such a move, he added, would be "disastrous" for all countries, but especially for Britain.
Downing Street has said Britain is committed to seeking a diplomatic solution with Ecuador in the standoff over Assange, whom it insists it is obliged to extradite to Sweden to face questioning over allegations of sexual misconduct, which he denies.
But last week, as Ecuador prepared to announce its decision to grant Assange asylum, Foreign Office officials in Quito delivered a letter to the Ecuadorean government in which they claimed a legal right under the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987 to revoke an embassy's diplomatic status.
The threat provoked an angry response from Correa. Asked on Monday night whether he thought there was any chance the British authorities would carry out its threat, the BBC reported that the president said: "While the United Kingdom hasn't retracted or apologised, the danger still exists."
Assange has been in the embassy in Knightsbridge since mid-June, and, despite Quito's offer, cannot leave for the airport as Britain is refusing to give him safe passage. The interview with Correa opened with a brief report from inside the embassy, showing the 41-year-old Assange embracing his lawyer Baltasar Garzón, minutes before he addressed supporters from the balcony outside on Sunday.
Speaking in advance of a meeting of the Organisation of American States on Friday, Correa said he hoped the gathering would provide him with strong backing from regional allies.
"Remember that David beat Goliath. And with many Davids it's easier to bring down a number of Goliaths," he said. "So we're hoping for clear and coherent backing because this violates all inter-American law, all international law, the Vienna convention and all diplomatic traditions of the last, at least, 300 years on a global scale."
Lawyer Accuses Chevron of Extortion
ADAM KLASFELD. Courthouse News Service. August 21, 2012
MANHATTAN (CN) - A lawyer who helped land a $19 billion judgment against Chevron in Ecuador has now lobbed extortion counterclaims against the oil giant for its efforts to discredit the verdict.
Chevron faces huge liability amid claims that its predecessor, Texaco, exposed thousands of Ecuadoreans to life-threatening disease, contaminated the groundwater and left oil pits oozing across the rainforest.
Though Chevron initially fought to try the case in Ecuador, it changed its tune as proceedings got underway in a Lago Agrio provincial court.
Attorney Steven Donziger, who helped orchestrate the case on behalf of 30,000 native Ecuadoreans, says Chevron initially believed it could pressure the Lago Agrio court by exploiting the company's relationship with the Ecuadorean military and threatening to lobby against trading privileges if it faces an unfavorable ruling.
With a finding of massive liability imminent in 2010, however, Chevron then launched a Shakespearean campaign to vilify Donziger, the lawyer claims.
"In short, Chevron decided to follow the advice of 'Dick the Butcher' in Henry the Sixth, part 2: 'The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers,'" according to a 158-page filing authored by Keker & Van Nest attorney John Keker.
Chevron's media and legal offensive casts Donziger as the ringleader of a plot to extort billions from Chevron with political pressure and vexatious lawsuits around the globe.
But Donziger says Chevron took his words out of context. Chevron has allegedly publicized one piece of footage in which it appears that Donziger is calling for his team to intimidate the judge with a gun-toting "army."
Donziger says the full tape shows laughter after that joke, which he emphasizes is not discussing "an armed army." The lawyer says he wanted people to "monitor" the court to "protect the process from corruption" in the transcripts.
But these out-of-context clips allegedly inspired U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan to block the Ecuadoreans from collecting their $19 billion verdict from Chevron in any court in the world, Donziger says.
The 2nd Circuit reversed Kaplan's "radical" injunction with instructions for the judge to craft rulings respecting the sovereignty of other nations.
Chevron is still pursuing Donziger and his colleagues for allegedly violating federal anti-racketeering law, but the company can seek only an injunction limited to the Southern District of New York.
Courts in Canada, Brazil and Ecuador are currently weighing calls for Chevron to start payment on the Lago Agrio verdict.
Judge Kaplan has also indicated that he might lack jurisdiction to grant Chevron money damages because the alleged fraud occurred in Ecuador.
Though Kaplan has characterized Chevron's extortion claims as credible, Donziger's countersuit boldly asks the judge to dismiss it as an extortion plot.
Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson called the maneuver "nothing more than a ploy to distract attention from his well-documented fraud."
"The claims Donziger has brought are no more credible than those that he and his clients brought in Ecuador," Robertson told Courthouse News. "Over the course of the last two years, Chevron has introduced incontrovertible evidence that Donziger coordinated an elaborate scheme to defraud Chevron and its shareholders."
Karen Hinton, a spokeswoman for the Ecuadoreans whom Donziger represented, applauded her colleagues in the case for putting Chevron on the defensive in the Southern District of New York.
"Steven Donziger is fighting back because Chevron's been allowed to damage his reputation in an effort to derail the lawsuit," Hinton told Courthouse News. "Chevron has failed, but that doesn't mean we're going to just allow them to tell lies and misrepresent what happened in Ecuador."
Donziger says that Chevron chose "three main avenues of attack" to discredit the case in Ecuador. Chevron allegedly fabricated evidence of judicial corruption, misrepresented the findings of scientific experts, and intimidated their opposing counsel and their supporters.
The judicial corruption allegation stems from footage that Chevron touted as evidence of Ecuadorean Judge Juan Nunez agreeing to bribes.
Nunez had been filmed by Chevron contractor Diejo Borja and convicted felon Wayne Hansen, whom Chevron claimed had no relationship with the company. Eventually, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Financial Times reported that the tapes showed no evidence of bribery.
Later, reports trickled out that Hansen had a prison record for trafficking hundreds of thousands of pounds of marijuana in 1986.
As reported first by Courthouse News, Hansen more recently evaded a subpoena from the Ecuadorean government by fleeing to Peru, a development that Hansen shared with a Chevron investigator in cryptic emails. Donziger says he later learned that Borja received more than $2 million in payments and benefits that Chevron allegedly characterized as "humanitarian."
Judge Nunez maintained his innocence but stepped down to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Nevertheless, his replacement, Judge German Yanez, allegedly become embroiled in a sex scandal.
Chevron claims that Donziger seized upon this situation to pressure appointment of a biased expert, Richard Cabrera, in the Lago Agrio trial. The case then fell into the hands of Judge Nicholas Zambrano.
Donziger says that none of the court-appointed experts in the Lago Agrio were neutral since each party paid their own, and that Chevron's own experts found the best evidence of its liability for the environmental damage.
According to the countersuit, Chevron's expert Doug MacKay wrote an email to a colleague stating: "I doubt seriously that there never were any significant environment or public health impacts, so I don't want to imply that."
But the lynchpin of Chevron's case comes from allegations that its legal adversaries ghostwrote Zambrano's final judgment.
Kaplan found that, "stripped of the rhetoric," the evidence confirms that a "multipage section" of the 188-page judgment mirrors one of the Ecuadorean's memos, "character-for-character."
Yet Donziger says Chevron cannot tie him to this memo.
"In fact, Donziger did not ghostwrite the judgment or have any knowledge that anyone else did. Chevron has no evidence to the contrary and no basis to accuse him," the countersuit states.
Even Kaplan reached this conclusion, as quoted next in Donziger's filing.
"Even assuming the [Lago Agrio] judge did not draft much of the judgment, there is no admissible evidence as to the identity of the author or authors," Kaplan wrote, as quoted in the countersuit. "The record is silent, for example, even as to such a basic matter as whether the trial judge had professional staff assisting him, which could account for multiple authors and for certain dissimilarities in style between the judgment and prior writings of the judge."
Donziger says that Chevron's campaign against him has been relentless.
"Chevron also has physically threatened, harassed, and intimidated Donziger by subjecting him and his family to near-constant monitoring and surveillance, both in the United States and in Ecuador," the countersuit states.
Bolivia's child workers in daily struggle for life
AFP. August 20, 2012
AFP - "I have worked as long as I can remember," says Felix Mamani Mayta, a 14-year-old whose life story illustrates an everyday reality for 850,000 children and adolescents in Bolivia.
Felix, who is still in school, began with small jobs in retail and later as a bicycle delivery boy for his family's business, a combination ice cream shop and meat and poultry distributor.
Witty and full of energy, Felix is a board member of the Union of Boys and Girl Workers of Bolivia, an advocacy group that lobbies Congress and municipal councils for legal protections for children.
The group lobbies "so that working girls and boys have a place in society, so that all children and adolescents are taken into account, so that we are listened to as children," he told AFP.
Franz Rios Apaza is 13 years old and sells cigarettes in the streets of El Alto, a city bordering La Paz and one of the poorest in the country.
"I began working when I was seven," he said. He worked as a bus driver's assistant, and shined shoes, and any other work he could find.
"I don't have a father, only a mother, and we are three brothers," he said.
"I am in school. I go in at seven in the evening and get out at 10 at night, and from there I go sell cigarettes until two or three in the morning.
"I earn 50 bolivianos (about seven dollars) on Fridays and Saturday, when I make more money."
Child labor "is a problem of poverty, not only in Bolivia, but in developing countries," said UNICEF's representative in La Paz, Marco Luigi Corsi, adding that there are no easy solutions.
The United Nations Children's Fund estimates that 850,000 children between the ages of five and 17 in Bolivia work and believes that it puts them at physical and psychological risk.
UNICEF, the Bolivian government and non-governmental organizations have identified 23 categories of child labor that all agree are dangerous.
They include work harvesting sugar cane and chestnuts in the lowlands and the Amazon basin, and mining in the Andean highlands.
In a country of 10 million people "there are about 300,000 who are dedicated full time to some form of child labor and between 40 and 60 percent in Bolivia are likely involved in the worst forms of child labor," says UNICEF spokesman Wolfgang Friedl.
"Bolivia is in a worrying situation, but there is recognition among legislators and government officials that the international laws and conventions to eradicate child labor must be fulfilled," he said.
Marco de Gaetano, coordinator of an NGO called El Trabajo de Crecer, which operates in Bolivia and Peru, says the goal is to end all forms of exploitation of minors.
"We are betting on the dignity of labor and the elimination of the worst forms of labor," he said.
Despite this, many child workers in Bolivia, especially those involved in commerce, believe they have been strengthened by their experience.
"Most people think that work is something bad, but on the contrary, for us it was a source of experience," said Felix, who said that as a bus driver's assistant he needed to know fractions to make change.
Tania Nava, head of the local municipality's child welfare office, is skeptical of the benefits. "There is an unresolved debate over whether children should work or not," she said.
"Families, for reasons of poverty, are obliged to have all their members work," she said.
However there is unanimous agreement that children deserve access to health, education, dignity and to be protected against exploitation and the worst forms of child labor.
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean [contents]
Mexico murders almost triple since 2005
AFP. August 21, 2012
MEXICO CITY — The murder rate in drug-violent Mexico has almost tripled since 2005, government figures showed Monday, though officials did not specify how many homicides were linked to the country's war on drugs.
A total of 27,199 people were killed in 2011, or 24 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to 9,921 in 2005, or 9 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to preliminary figures from the National Statistics Institute (INEGI).
It was an increase of 5.6 percent from 2010, when 25,757 homicides were committed.
The INEGI figures do not specify how many homicides were linked to the drug war, but the number of murders has surged since President Felipe Calderon unleashed the military against powerful cartels in 2006.
The government stopped providing statistics on drug-related homicides in September 2011, when it reported that 47,515 people were killed in drug violence since December 2006.
According to a recent study by Lantia Consultores, a public policy firm, 7,022 people were killed in the first six months of 2012, up from 6,408 in the second half of 2011.
The INEGI figures showed that 95,632 homicides were committed across the nation between 2007 and 2011.
The northern state of Chihuahua, which borders the United States, recorded the most homicides last year with a total of 4,502.
The central state of Mexico, the most populous with 15.1 million people, came second with 2,613 homicides.
The southern state of Guerrero was third with 2,425 homicides. It is home to Acapulco, the Pacific resort town that has been the scene of horrendous drug-related murders in recent months.
The number of homicides more than doubled between 2010 and 2011 in Veracruz and Nuevo Leon, two states dominated by the Zetas drug cartel, an ultra-violent gang controlled by army deserters.
In Veracruz, homicides rose to 1,075 last year from 461 in 2010. In Nuevo Leon, they surged to 2,177 in 2011 from 951 a year earlier.
Mexican wave fizzles out in fraud fight
Adam Thomson. Financial Times. August 21, 2012
In an airless tent next to Mexico City’s cathedral, Aurelio Martínez has collected what he believes is proof that Mexico’s presidential election was a fraud: key rings, baseball caps, plastic pencil cases and other trinkets all stamped with the logo of the winning centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
The stockpile of items, which PRI officials allegedly handed out in exchange for votes, is part of a display of support for Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the leftwing candidate who has challenged the victory of the PRI’s Enrique Peña Nieto in the July 1 contest.
“Every party commits fraud,” says Mr Martínez, a stocky figure dressed in hand-me-down clothes. “But the PRI went too far.”
Mr Martínez’s problem though, and that of anyone who supports the cause of Mr López Obrador, or Amlo as he is popularly known, is that fewer and fewer Mexicans seem to care.
Public passion is waning in the long five months that separate the election and the presidential swearing-in on December 1. Furthermore, Amlo’s arguments that the PRI massively cheated appear to be thin – despite the 638-page dossier of evidence he has filed.
Impatient for a formal ruling from the country’s Electoral Tribunal that is due by September 6, even Amlo’s Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) appears tired of the struggle.
In a telling interview last week, PRD member Graco Ramírez said: “As soon as the tribunal comes out with a resolution, we are going to go forward…we want dialogue with all the political forces, agreements with the [rightwing] National Action Party (PAN), with the PRI and with everyone.”
Such attitudes mark a sea change from the last election six years ago. Back then, Amlo suffered a narrow defeat and enjoyed his party’s full support as he threw himself in to a months-long occupation of Mexico City’s central square and biggest thoroughfare.
The difference this time is that official results place Mr López Obrador almost seven percentage points behind, compared with a less than one point loss in 2006. Only systemic fraud could explain today’s big gap and, so far, most people agree the evidence does not appear to support the possibility.
In addition, many PRD members have learnt a difficult lesson. Six years ago, their support for Mr López Obrador’s protest sidelined them from decision-making in Congress and cost them valuable public support.
As the PRD’s Mr Ramírez said last week in an unusually candid admission: “That was what stopped us from winning the  election and was a mistake”.
Furthermore, PRD and other leftwing parties have become the second-most-important political force in Congress, with an estimated 134 of the 500 lower-house seats. Mr López Obrador has not challenged that result, although the Congressional vote took place on the same day, under the same conditions and in the same polling stations as the presidential contest he is contesting.
Nonetheless, the protest campaign has still had an effect. As a concession to the cheating charges, Mr Peña Nieto says the PRI’s priority when Congress reconvenes on September 1 will be a series of measures designed to fight corruption.
This has delayed his original reform timetable, which was to focus on energy, tax and labour-market reforms to elevate growth to the 6 per cent rate that Mr Peña Nieto has set as his goal.
That change does not rule out legislative advances in these areas before the end of this year. But it will probably increase the PRI’s need for support from the PAN.
The PAN shares many of the PRI’s economic ideas, but is likely to extract promises of political reform such as allowing re-election for some official posts in return. That may not be to Mr Peña Nieto’s liking, but is another sign of how Mexican democracy is maturing.
Meanwhile, back at Mr Martínez’s display in the centre of Mexico City, a scraggly group of street sellers has turned up. One of them, José Luis Villalobos Ramírez Corzo, or “the Wolf”, as he is known, says he is more interested in the tent’s shade than the display itself.
As a street vendor, he says he was the victim of police harassment when Mr López Obrador was Mexico City mayor, from 2000 to 2005. “He stopped me from trying to earn a living,” says the Wolf. “How can I support the left if the left does not support me?”
Belize Nears Default After Missing $23 Million Bond Payment
Adam Williams - Aug 20, 2012 1:37 PM ET
Belize neared default after the Central American country missed a payment today on about $544 million of bonds and Finance Secretary Joseph Waight said the government is unlikely to pay during a 30-day grace period.
The government can’t make today’s $23 million bond payment, Waight said in a phone interview from Belmopan City. Prime Minister Dean Barrow, who won re-election in March, said a restructuring was needed after the coupon on the country’s so- called superbond climbed to 8.5 percent this year from 6 percent as part of an accord reached with investors in 2007.
“We simply do not have the capacity to make the payment,” Waight said. “We are hoping to engage with creditors as quickly as possible.”
Barrow projected that Belize’s fiscal deficit will climb to 2.5 percent of gross domestic product this year from 1.1 percent after growth in the $1.4 billion economy slowed and the government took over the telecommunications and electricity distribution companies.
The price of Belize’s dollar bonds due in 2029 fell 0.17 cent to 34.83 cents on the dollar at 1:17 p.m. New York time, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The majority of the country’s bond holders have rejected three debt renegotiation scenarios published by the central bank on Aug. 8. Those scenarios include reduction of the 8.5 percent coupon to 2 percent with a 15-year principal grace period and a maturity date extension to 2062 from 2029. Other scenarios call for a 45 percent principal reduction with incremental coupon adjustments, or a 5-year principal grace period with a 3.5 percent coupon.
“By not paying the coupon, the government is trying to force bond holders into an exchange that will get investors pennies on the dollar,” said Joe Kogan, head of emerging-market debt strategy at Scotia Capital Markets in New York. Kogan described Belize’s proposal in an Aug. 8 report as “one of the worst restructurings for bondholders in recent emerging markets history.”
Belize has hired New York-based law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP to advise the government on the restructuring, Waight said. Cleary Gottlieb aided Argentina in its debt restructurings following the country’s default on $95 billion of bonds in 2001.
To contact the reporter on this story: Adam Williams in San Jose, Costa Rica at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: David Papadopoulos at firstname.lastname@example.org
Broken Anvil: Victims Fight for Justice After DEA Operation Leaves Four Dead in Honduras
Real News Network. August 20, 2012
The remote community of Ahuas, Honduras is located deep inside the country’s Miskitu coast, a tightly-woven indigenous community long forgotten by government help but also by crime. In contrast to the rest of the country, which boasts the highest murder rate per capita in the world, Ahuas is a peaceful place with deep family ties. But that changed in the early morning hours of May 11, when soldiers opened fire from U.S. government helicopters, killing four people, including two pregnant women, a child and a young father. Now Ahuas and the Moskitia have become ground zero in the Drug Enforcement Administration (D.E.A.)’s Operation Anvil and the broader U.S. war on drugs—changing the lives of the gente del Rio—River People—forever.
KAELYN FORDE, TRNN: A journey to the new frontline in the U.S. war on drugs—two hours by plane from the capital, Tegucigalpa, two hours by boat through a Caribbean lagoon and down winding canals reached only by canoe. Ahuas was once a remote place where indigenous Miskitu communities lived for centuries, forgotten by governments but also criminals.
But since launching what it calls Operation Anvil this year, the U.S. Drug Enforcement
Administration (DEA) has made la Moskitia ground zero—with deadly consequences for the people of Ahuas.
People here call each other cousin, and in contrast to other parts of Honduras, which boasts the highest murder rate per capita in the world; in Ahus, neighbors rarely lock their doors.
JUDGE WESLY MILLER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The people used to say, Ahuas is the best place in the department, it’s a very good place. And it was—up until the tragedy of May 11th.
FORDE: People here have no running water and no electricity. Rustic roads and few cars leave people relying instead on the fast-flowing Patuca River—a lifeline and a highway, bringing everything from building supplies to food.
FORDE IN AHUAS, HONDURAS: Passengers say this was the boat carrying 16 people, including women and children, on the night of May 11. The boat left Barra Patuca at 8:30 p.m., arriving here near Ahuas at around 2:30 a.m. Many of the passengers say they were asleep when they were awoken by the sound of helicopters. And then the gunshots began, puncturing the side of the boat, which can still be seen patched over here.
Within seconds, four people were dead—including two pregnant women, a young father and Clara Wood’s teenage son.
CLARA WOOD (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The shots began from above and I jumped up, I shouted out to God, ‘Where is my son?’ But he wasn’t there in the front of the boat. No one was there.
FORDE: Sandra Madrid’s house is closest to the landing. She says there was no warning before the helicopters opened fire on the canoe.
SANDRA MADRID (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): They say they used flares to warn people to move out of the way before they started shooting. But that’s a lie. I saw the flares, along with many other people. And that light was after the shootout.
FORDE: Bera Gonzalez was in the boat that night with her 11-year-old and 2-year-old daughters. When she heard the shots, she covered her children with her body.
BERA GONZALEZ (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I thought, how am I going to save myself? It’s better for me to die here with my children. That’s why I didn’t jump out of the boat and swim, to stay with my daughters. I waited for the shot that would kill me. I was waiting for death.
FORDE: Hilda was next to her husband, who was driving the boat. A bullet ripped through both of her legs.
HILDA LEZAMA (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): By the time I realized what was happening, they had already shot me. I had to throw myself in the water to save myself.
FORDE: Hilda clutched a tree branch for more than three hours before being rescued.
LEZAMA (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I don’t know how I did it, because all of my blood was flowing out into the water. I don’t know how much blood I lost. But at five in the morning, my son came to get me out.
FORDE: Hilda’s children had come to look for their parents and brother-in-law when soldiers came toward them.
ELMINA EULOPIO (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I thought that the soldiers were going to help us rescue the people who had been shot. But then they asked my brother where they could find gasoline and took him there at gunpoint.
FORDE: Store owner Dole Woods says soldiers forced him onto the ground face down, tearing the cable out of his pacemaker.
DOLE WOODS (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I told them, here is my ID card check and see my name isn't on the blacklist of drug traffickers. I told them, if you already broke into my store, if you want to come inside, they asked, "Do you have children here?" and I said yes. But come inside and check everything. With all of the respect you deserve, come inside and see if you can find any drugs.
FORDE: A faded boot print can still be seen where soldiers kicked down the door. Hilder Eulopio says he then took the soldiers out to the canoe where the drugs were. Two American soldiers were already on board with 14 bundles of cocaine.
HILDER EULOPIO (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): When we arrived at the canoe, they told me to get close to it, and I did. Then they loaded the drugs into our boat. They unloaded them again onto the landing and then left in the helicopter. They never helped me rescue my mother.
FORDE: Hilder says two of the soldiers then offered him money.
HILDER EULOPIO (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): They forced me to bring the drugs with them. We brought them here and unloaded them. And then they asked me if I had a cell phone number or a bank account because they were going to leave some money for me in the bank.
FORDE: Soldiers handcuffed and beat Clara’s 17-year-old nephew, Celin.
CELIN CORBELO (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): They had three guns pointed at my head, one at each side and one at the base of my skull. They questioned me and said if I didn’t answer, they would throw me into the river handcuffed, or they would shoot me and get rid of my body. They asked me, “Where are the drugs? Who is the leader? Where does he live?” I told them I was innocent, that I was just here to look for my aunt.
FORDE: As Hilder and others searched for the survivors, the helicopters were still circling overhead.
MADRID (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The Americans went down to the river, got the drugs and then took them out in the helicopter. They saw very well that they were leaving people dead.
FORDE: The community found two of the bodies that morning. One was 21-year-old Emerson Martinez, the other was 48-yearold Candelaria Trapp.
HILDER EULOPIO (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): When I saw my brother-in-law in the water, I touched him but he didn’t move, he was already dead. All during this time, there was a helicopter circling overhead, watching me. And then it left.
FORDE: It took more two days to find Hasked and Juana’s bodies, which had drifted several miles down the river. Neighbors brought Clara her son’s body.
WOOD (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): When they found him and they put him on the floor, he was full of water and his body was already rotting. I couldn’t see my baby’s face anymore. I couldn’t bathe him, he was so swollen and soft, so I put him in a bag and that’s how I had to bury him. They killed him like he was a dog.
FORDE: Before that night, only one person had died violently in Ahuas in the past decade. Grief shook the community. Later that day, a group of people burned down four houses, belonging to the people thought to be working with the drug traffickers. Judge Wesly Miller was also targeted.
MILLER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I was very sad, and very scared. When the people passed by here, I was upstairs with my family, because they told me they were going to burn my house down.
FORDE: If a pregnant woman is murdered in Honduras, the fetus is considered a victim as well. Candelaria Trapp’s family says she was pregnant. Juana Jackson was also six months pregnant.
GONZALEZ (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): It had been a long time since she had seen me, but she grabbed me, hugged me and kissed me. It was the last day she was alive. I didn't know then it would be the last time I saw her alive. I saw that her belly was already very big.
FORDE: The coroner came to perform an autopsy 43 days after the bodies had been buried. Authorities exhumed the bodies in public. Juana’s sister Marlene tried to take this cell phone video before police stopped her.
MARLENE JACKSON (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Then they began with my sister.
And so many people were there watching. They started to take her body out, and then they started cutting her body where the bullets were and putting the pieces in a little pan. From her head, from her nose, from her leg. Then they opened her up and took out her heart. And we were there, watching all of it.
FORDE: They told Marlene that Juana hadn’t been pregnant.
JACKSON (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): One of the men went into the grave with the forensic examiner to help him lift her body. He told me that the fetus fell out of her, but that they left it there and didn’t examine it. And then they went and said she wasn’t pregnant.
FORDE: Since Marlene didn’t have any money for another coffin, she buried her sister in the earth nearby, next to Clara’s son. Days later, Marlene found her sister’s teeth and bones, left behind by the forensic team.
JACKSON (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We’re just left with these sad reminders.
FORDE: The government has not allowed the victims’ families or human rights groups to see the autopsy reports. Honduran investigators and the U-S Embassy in Tegucigalpa claim that only two people died of bullet wounds. But the judge in Puerto Lempira who was present during the autopsy disagrees.
JUDGE CAMILO PERALTA (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): In some of the bodies, the bullets were still there. But all four bodies had bullet wounds. That's what the pathologist doing the investigation reports preliminarily.
FORDE: A bullet hole is still visible in the motor of the boat. Clara’s furniture was also on board—it too is riddled with bullets. Initial reports accused the victims of being involved in drug trafficking. But Clara disagrees.
WOOD (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): My poor baby, only 14 years old, how could he be involved in that? He didn’t know anything about that badness. He’s with God now. My cousin was in that boat with her two babies, what did they have to do with the narcos?
FORDE: The mayor admits that a small percentage of Ahuas’ 10,000 people accept work from drug traffickers.
MAYOR LUCIO BAQUEARDARO (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): But to say we live off of narcotrafficking, that we live off of drugs, that’s a lie. I can say that when they have come and offered work clearing the landing strips, our people have cleared them. That’s the concern we have always had. But what is the government going to do about it? What alternatives do our people have?
FORDE: These photos show a burnt plane on the nearest clandestine landing strip to Ahuas, several miles away. Honduran authorities say the D.E.A. often burns the planes themselves, but isn’t interested in investigating—just in confiscating the drugs.
VOICE OF POLICE CAPTAIN OSWALDO PEREZ SUAZO, PUERTO LEMPIRA (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): This plane was burned by the D.E.A. agents themselves. They lit it on fire themselves. REPORTER: But don’t they need it for the investigation? Well, yes, it could have been used. But the thing is, in that moment, what I have observed is that there is an empowerment on the part of the D.E.A. agents when they do operations. And despite the fact that national police officers go with them, they don’t share information with the national police. They are empowered as if they are in their own territory there. I’ve seen that what interests them is the drugs. They confiscate the drugs and take them with them. Then they take off and leave us there with the bodies, with the people who have been been arrested, with everything.
FORDE: On June 23, the D.E.A. shot an alleged drug trafficker down the river in Brus Laguna. It was the first time the U.S. has admitted its agents killed someone in Honduras. The U.S. military says it has copied its strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan by using three forward operating bases in la Moskitia. But the Honduran military says their efforts have done little to stop the flow of drugs.
HONDURAN ARMY COLONEL RONALD RIVERA (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The problem of drug trafficking is unstoppable. This is in spite of our efforts and preventative measures, including blowing up the landing strips with dynamite. But despite all that, drug trafficking continues. They find a way, they change their strategy and they use the air, the land and the sea. They are always looking for another way.
FORDE: He says the killings were an accident.
RIVERA (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): What happened there was confusion, an accident. Because people who didn’t have anything to do with drug trafficking died.
FORDE: So far, the people of Ahuas say no one from the U.S. government has come to ask for their testimony. But since the 2009 military coup that ousted him, former President Manuel Zelaya says the climate of impunity has worsened as the U.S. drug war expands.
FORMER HONDURAN PRESIDENT MANUEL ZELAYA (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We lament that innocent people have died. We need to find an international way to end the crisis of drug trafficking. That's both the production of drugs and consumption by the North. It needs to be a cooperative solution. The measures we small countries take don't work if the larger countries continue their failed policies regarding drug trafficking. Those policies have produced more violence and more crime. Let's remember two operations that the U.S. has done recently. Operation 'Fast and Furious' in Mexico, where they allowed arms across the border, and the operation where they allowed clandestine arms into Honduras also. The American government itself was putting clandestine arms in our countries. That needs to end.
FORDE: Human rights groups say the country is living a crisis not seen since the 1980s.
BERTA OLIVA, COMMITTEE OF THE FAMILIES OF THE DETAINED AND DISAPPARED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The low-intensity war of the 1980s deeply affected the most vulnerable communities. And obviously, the indigenous communities were the most vulnerable communities then, just as they are now. Where they have started their campaign of terror is in the indigenous communities, because they are defending their territories. And when there are people defending their land, by force and by conscience, the response is persecution, delegitimization and assassination.
FORDE: Human rights groups are demanding that the U.S. Congress investigate the D.E.A.’s role in the killings—a night that left Clara without her son.
WOOD (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): He loved to joke with me, to come to me. Now no one comes for me. He would hug me and kiss me, and now it’s been months since he touched my body.
FORDE: Marlene now cares for Juana’s two orphaned children. The pain of her sister’s death is still deep.
JACKSON: She loved to walk along here, to stop and chat. Now when I leave, she’s not there in her house. She doesn’t come here. I will never see her again. I go to the cemetery and she doesn’t rise up to talk to me.
FORDE: From Ahuas, Honduras for the Real News Network, I’m Kaelyn Forde.
Center for Economic and Policy Research, 1611 Connecticut Ave, NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20009
Phone: (202) 293-5380, Fax: (202) 588-1356
The Center for Economic and Policy Research is an independent, nonpartisan think tank that was established to promote democratic debate on the most important economic and social issues that affect people's lives. CEPR's Advisory Board includes Nobel Laureate economists Robert Solow and Joseph Stiglitz; Janet Gornick, Professor at the CUNY Graduate Center and Director of the Luxembourg Income Study; and Richard Freeman, Professor of Economics at Harvard University.
Subscribe • Update Subscriptions • Unsubscribe • CEPR RSS Feed • Become our fan on Facebook • Follow us on Twitter
If you enjoy CEPR’s unique perspectives on Latin America and the global economy, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to the Center for Economic and Policy Research. We depend on the generosity of individuals like you to support our work. Federal employees can support CEPR through the Combined Federal Campaign, CFC #79613.