Thursday, March 22, 2012

Indigenous Protest Marchers Arrive in Quito, Warn Against Govt Attacks

A group of indigenous protesters has arrived in Ecuador’s capital Quito after a two-week march to protest against large-scale mining projects in the Amazon region. Some 2,000 people entered the city, some joining for the last 10 km of the route, reports La Hora.

The marchers are angered by President Rafael Correa’s government giving the go-ahead to a Chinese company’s $1.4 billion project for open-face copper mining in the land of the Shuar people, in the southeast. The government has said that Ecuador will get 52 percent of the profits from the planned extraction.

The march began 350 km south of Quito, in the Amazon town of El Pangui, on March 8, reports Associated Press. They arrived in the capital a day ahead of schedule, entering the city on Wednesday afternoon. This morning, some woke up at 3:30 a.m. to carry out rituals in a central park of the city, reports La Hora. They are planning to regroup at 9:00 and visit government buildings.

Indigenous and environmental groups have decried government efforts to repress protesters. Humberto Cholango, president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie), told Hoy that the marchers were on alert for attacks, and that communities throughout Ecuador were waiting to hear news of any aggressions. “If we receive ... attacks in the city of Quito on the part of the government, obviously we are going to defend ourselves across the country,” he said.

Correa has declared that the protesters have the right to demonstrate peacefully, but said they would be outnumbered by his supporters, reports the AP. “They’ll be welcome, and if they’re 500, we will be 50,000.”

The groups were denied permission by the transit authorities for buses to transport indigenous people to the capital for the protests, while government supporters were able to hire buses easily, reports the website. Another community leader told Hoy:
At this time [the authorities] have taken over the streets, the highways, in the cities and we're like strangers in our own country. They don't let Indians get on buses, hire buses.
The AP reports that a study found that some 205 activists have faced criminal charges under Correa’s presidency, mostly sabotage and terrorism.  A spokeswoman for the environmental group Accion Ecologica told the news agency that the government’s aim in  is to “intimidate those most critical of what the current regime considers to be priority projects.”

News Briefs
  • A Guatemalan court has sentenced five former members of a paramilitary group to 7,710 years in prison each, for the massacre of 268 indigenous people during the civil war, in 1982, reports BBC. The men, four of them members of the Civil Self-Defense Patrols (PAC) and one military officer, got 30 years for each victim, plus 30 years for crimes against humanity, although the maximum sentence they would be able to serve under Guatemalan law would be 50 years. The judge found that their victims had been raped, tortured and murdered, and then their bodies burnt to hide the crime, with “malice” and “premeditation.” Many of the dead were women and children. Amnesty International welcomed the verdict as a sign that “slowly but surely, justice is beginning to prevail,” for crimes committed during the war. The decision follows the sentencing earlier this month of a former special forces soldier to 6,060 years over another 1982 massacre.
  • Amnesty International has released a critical report on human rights in Cuba ahead of the Pope’s visit. It said the rights situation on the island had deteriorated, and that the government “wages a permanent campaign of harassment and short-term detentions of political opponents to stop them from demanding respect for civil and political rights.” The report placed four Cuban inmates on its list of prisoners of conscience, and said that the regime’s release of dozens of political prisoners last year did not signal a change in human rights policy.
    Meanwhile, the annual report from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom found there had been “some improvements” to religious freedom in Cuba, though it kept the country on its watch list, due to continuing“serious” violations, reports the Miami Herald. Vatican officials say that the Pope’s visit to Cuba should help democracy on the island, reports the AP
  • The LA Times reports on the growing power of the Catholic Church in Mexico, noting that it has become more involved in politics over the last decade, under the rule of the conservative PAN party, and says the Pope's visit is part of work to build on this.
  • Bloggings by Boz notes that Guatemalan President Otto Perez is lowering expectations on the chances for a move forward in the drug legalization debate, ahead of Saturday’s meeting of Central American presidents. He has also askedbusiness representatives from around the world to help proposed alternatives to the militarized approach to the drug war.
  • Plaza Publica has a report on the Guatemalan government’s efforts to regulate private security firms. It notes that it is the country with the greatest disparity between private and public security agents, with 120,000 private against 25,000 public.
  • The latest revelations on the “Fast and Furious” gun trafficking scandal say that agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)allowed a suspected arms trafficker to go free in order to catch two drug cartel members, who were in fact already working as FBI informants, reports the LA Times. Republicans investigating the program, which has been much criticized for allowing guns to be trafficked into Mexico in order to track the criminals receiving them, said in an internal memo to committee members:"This means the entire goal of Fast and Furious — to target these two individuals and bring them to justice — was a failure." 
  • The New York Times has a feature on a project to hang giant portraits of crime victims on the walls of buildings in a crime-hit Mexico City suburb. Damien Cave identifies it as part of a movement of “victim visualizers,” who campaign less for concrete policy changes than to make people aware of the effects of wide-scale violence, often through social media.
  • The Chilean government must pay compensation to a judge whose children were taken from her custody because she was a lesbian, after a ruling from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, reports the New York Times.
  • Uruguay’s government has apologized for the death of the daughter-in-law of Argentine poet Juan Gelman, who was taken to the country after being arrested in Argentina in 1976 under the military regime, reports the AP. She was seven months pregnant when she was detained and taken to Montevideo, and her child was adopted by a member of Uruguay’s security forces.
  • Bloomberg Businessweek says that the lack of fatalities in Tuesday’s earthquake shows that Mexico City has learned the lessons of the devastating 1985 quake, which killed 9,000.
  • The LA Times reports on a festival that takes place each year in Ixcateopan, southeast of Mexico City, to mark the birth of Cuauhtemoc, the last Aztec emperor, whose bones are supposedly buried in a local church.

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