Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Chilean Judge Requests Indictment of U.S. Military Officer in Post-Coup Killings

A Chilean judge has requested the indictment of a former United States Navy officer for his suspected role in the murder of two U.S. citizens in 1973. U.S. Navy Captain Ray E. Davis was charged yesterday in the deaths of filmmaker Charles Horman and economics student Frank Teruggi, who were killed in the aftermath of the military coup that overthrew President Salvador Allende. Retired military official Pedro Octavio Espinoza Bravo was also charged in the case.

The indictment claims that Horman was detained on September 17th, 1973, and was likely executed the next day. Teruggi was killed on September 22ndHorman's disappearance was the inspiration for the 1982 Academy Award-winning film "Missing," featuring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek.

According to The New York Times, much of Judge Jorge Zepeda’s ruling is based on secret U.S. government documents that were declassified in 1999, which show that Capt. Davis, while  commander of the Military Group at the U.S. embassy in Santiago, provided Chilean intelligence with information about the two men.. Zepeda found that Davis did not prevent their murders, “although he was in a position to do so, given his coordination with Chilean agents.”

Although Zepeda’s ruling claimed Davis resides in the U.S., his specific whereabouts are unknown. In 2000 the Times reported that he was retired, and maintained that he had “nothing to do with the deaths and he appeared offended by the resurgence of questions about the killings.”
Despite the ruling, Zepeda must still wait for approval of the extradition request from the Chilean Supreme Court. This may prove tricky, as the specific evidence linking both Davis and Espinoza to the deaths is unclear. As the National Security Archive’s Peter Kornbluh, who has been instrumental in investigating the U.S. role in the killings, told CNN:

“We're now waiting with bated breath to see what the evidence (behind) that indictment actually is. The families deserve to know, and they deserve justice after all these years. Nobody's ever gone to jail, let alone been identified as responsible for these deaths, and almost 40 years have gone by."

News Briefs

  • According to the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, the poverty rate in Latin America is at its lowest rate in twenty years. The BBC reports that the ECLAC’s latest poverty estimates for the region, released last week in the Social Panorama of Latin America 2011, indicate that the poverty rate fell from 48.4% in 1990 to 31.4% in 2010. In the same period, the rate of extreme poverty fell from 22.6% to 12.3%.  Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia all saw the largest drops in poverty, while Mexico and Honduras were the only two countries that saw poverty increase over the past decade.

  •   Anti-corruption activist Nepomuceno Moreno was gunned down on Monday in Hermosillo, Sonora, in an incident that reflects the complexities of Mexico’s “drug war.” El Universal reports that Moreno was a well-known figure in Javier Sicilia’s Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, and his fellow activist claim that he was targeted for speaking out against corruption in the local government. Officials, however, claim that Moreno had a criminal past. As the AP notes, these competing narratives “echoed a wider national dispute,” as President Felipe Calderon has repeatedly claimed that the majority of those killed in the drug-fueled conflict are criminals themselves. The attack occurred just days after Sicilia called for a Christmastime "cease-fire" between the government and Mexico's drug cartels in order for each side to "reflect on what they are doing, what they are doing to the country."

  • Meanwhile, NACLA highlights efforts by human rights lawyer Netzaí Sandoval to try key figures in the “drug war” at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Netherlands. Sandoval has filed charges of “crimes against humanity” against Calderon, along with the Secretaries of Mexico’s Army, Navy, and Public Safety, as well as Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. The effort has been backed by a petition featuring 23,000 signatures, but it remains to be seen if the Court will take the case. 

  • In preparation for the upcoming inaugural Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) summit in Venezuela on December 2 and 3, Prensa Latina informs that the agenda is currently being carefully prepared and reviewed.  Every country in the Americas (except for the U.S, and Canada) is expected to send delegates to the meeting, which was initially set for July 2011 but was rescheduled due to Hugo Chavez’s health issues. According to TeleSur , the main themes of the conference will be: political, economic, social and cultural integration; promotion of sustainable development in a time of regional economic growth; creating spaces for solidarity and political cooperation; and integrating CELAC with existing international organizations such as Mercosur and the Andean Community of Nations.  

  • Colombia’s FARC guerrillas have released a statement blaming the Colombian government for the deaths of four hostages who were executed during a shootout with army forces last Saturday. According to the rebels, the men were on the verge of being released as a gesture of good faith, a claim which peace activist Piedad Cordoba confirmed in an interview with Spanish newspaper Gara. Whether or not this is the case, the statement does not directly offer a justification for the murders, which Human Rights Watch has identified as a war crime. 

  • The largest copper and gold mining project in Peru was suspended yesterday in response to days of massive protests against the project, which locals in the northern Cajamarca state feared would damage water supplies.  The battle is part of President Humala’s ongoing attempts at balancing the concerns of the rural poor with the mining industry, which has taken a toll on Humala’s popularity in some sectors. As one protest leader told the AP: We peasants of Cajamarca feel tremendously defrauded by (President) Ollanta Humala and really consider him a traitor."

  • El Heraldo reports that the Honduran congress voted yesterday to grant the military the power to conduct law enforcement patrols and make arrests in an effort to curb violence and crime in the Central American country. Despite concerns over the integrity of the military, Reuters claims that the move is popular, saying that “polls have shown people feel safer with soldiers patrolling the streets,” although the news agency curiously gives no examples. 

  • Mike Allison has an insightful Op-ed in Al-Jazeera English on the resignation of Manuel Melgar and the controversial appointment of David Munguia Payes as El Salvador’s Minister of Justice and Public Security. According to Allison, the appointment is part of a trend of militarizing state institutions in the country.

  • The United Nations anti-impunity commission in Guatemala, CICIG, has announced that it will cut its staff by 30 percent due to a decrease in funding. InSight Crime reports that the Commission, which has been instrumental in strengthening Guatemala’s justice system, has seen a 25 percent reduction in its budget for the next year, from $20 to $15 million. As a consequence, the commission plans to reduce its staff by 30 percent, dismissing at least 60 of its 200 employees over the next four months. The organization has claimed this will have no effect on its work, but whether this holds true remains to be seen.

  • Political scientist Guillermo O’Donnell, whose writings on democracy influenced countless Latin American experts and rule of law scholars, passed away in Buenos Aires yesterday after a four-month struggle with cancer. His eulogy in La Nacion can be read here.

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