Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Guatemalan Protester’s Body Found with 'Signs of Torture'

A man who went missing during protests in west Guatemala, when six other demonstrators were shot dead by the army, has been found dead in a river, amid conflicting reports over the causes of his death.

The body of Domingo Pablo Puac Vasquez, a 49-year-old indigenous man, was discovered in a river in Pasajoc, Totonicapan province, not far from the site of the demonstrations. Mario Itzep of the Indigenous Observatory told Prensa Libre that, according to a preliminary report from forensic institute INACIF, Puac had two bullet wounds, one in his leg and one in his ribs, and had apparently been tortured, reports Prensa Libre. However, elPeriodico reports that INACIF said the body had no bullet wounds nor signs of torture, but was killed by a blow to the head.

According to the account cited by elPeriodico, Puac died between October 13 and 21. This would mean he was alive for at least a week after he went missing during the October 4 protests.

Siglo 21 has further details from Itzep, who said “The body showed signs of torture and had been bound with chains, as used to happen during the internal armed conflict.” Julio Lorenzo, representative of the province's cantons, said that the site where the body was found was close to where the demonstrations had taken place -- “We suppose they went to dump it there.”

The cantons sent an open letter to President Otto Perez, asked him to investigate whether Puac was “another victim of the repression of your government,” and calling on the international community to support them.

Last week, Perez’s Foreign Minister Harold Caballeros sent a letter to the New York Times in response to its article on the shootings, explaining that Perez had “vowed to ensure that practices condemned in the past would not be part of Guatemala’s future.”

Americas Quarterly has a report from Totonicapan, published before Puac’s body was found. The authors visited the site of the killings and spoke to witnesses, who said that the soldiers repeatedly shot aiming to kill during a battle that lasted over two hours. For Anita Isaacs and Rachel Schwartz:

The events of October 4, 2012 cannot be explained away as a mistake, an unfortunate incident, or an accident … What occurred was a massacre waiting to happen -- the product of profound economic, social and political tensions that Guatemalan leadership has ignored and frequently exacerbated since the signing of peace accords in December 1996.
They argue that the military’s violent response to the protests was a logical consequence of the hardline “iron fist” policies promoted by Perez, but said that the arrests of nine soldiers involved, and Perez’s eventual statement that the military would not be deployed against protesters, point to a breaking in the culture of impunity.


News Briefs

  • Hurricane Sandy has caused massive damage in Haiti, destroying 70 percent of crops in the south of the country, according to officials. They warned that many families would go hungry because of the storm, which has left 52 dead so far, reported the Associated Press. Flooding and unsanitary conditions caused by the storm could trigger a rise in cholera cases in the country, according to a report from Al Jazeera. Eleven people were reported dead in Cuba, and mass evacuations were carried out in the Dominican Republic, according to the AP.
  • A Bolivian radio studio was attacked by masked and armed men who threw petrol over the presenter and set him alight while he was live on air, the BBC reports. Journalist Fernando Vidal is an outspoken critic of corruption in the town of Yacuiba, which borders Argentina and is on a major drug smuggling route, according to the AP. His son-in-law said that Vidal knew who was behind the attack, pointing to “political interests.” Amnesty International said the “chilling” attack showed that freedom of expression was under attack in Bolivia.
  • A Mexican man has pleaded guilty to the murder in 2010 of US Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, under a plea bargain that means he will not get the death sentence, reports CBS. Manuel Osorio Arellanes crossed the border into Arizona as part of a plan to steal a drug shipment from a group of traffickers, and exchanged fire with US agents, leaving Terry dead. The case helped trigger the scandal over the US’s Fast and Furious anti-gun trafficking operation, after guns found to the scene were traced back to the program, which allowed guns to be smuggled into Mexico in order to track them to major kingpins.
  • Colombian drug lord Henry de Jesus Lopez Londoño, known as “Mi Sangre,” was captured in a Buenos Aires supermarket, reports El Tiempo. A profile of Mi Sangre on InSight Crime says that Colombian authorities had trouble gathering enough evidence against him to issue an arrest warrant, even though he was a major player in the country's drug trade, controlling much of the city of Medellin.
  • The LA Times has a report on US evangelicals who travel to cities hit by Mexico’s drug war to support local churches. It reports that one Monterrey pastor saw these men's return, despite the threat of violence, as “part of an epic spiritual battle for a city, like Babylon, that had fallen into decadence and was in need of salvation.”
  • InSight Crime has published a series of reports on modern slavery in the Americas, with stories on child recruitment, sex trafficking and kidnapping in Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico. The Mexican section, authored by Animal Politico, tells the story of young professionals, particularly engineers, who are kidnapped by drug gangs and made to work for them as forced labor, setting up communications systems and technical equipment.
  • The Financial Times reports on the wide public interest being stirred by trials of Brazilian officials in the mensalao corruption case, with the convictions of high-level members of the Lula da Silva government causing excitement amongst a population used to such scandals being brushed over. “You have to keep in mind that in Brazil until recently we have had cases of politicians killing other politicians in public and not going to jail,” a Eurasia Group analyst told the newspaper.
  • Spain has requested the extradition of seven former members of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s secret police, DINA, who are accused of murdering a Spanish diplomat in 1976. One of them is US citizen Michael Townley, who is thought to be living under a US witness protection program, reports the BBC.
  • The AP has a report on the struggles of indigenous people in Mexico’s Isthmus of Tehuantepec against wind farming projects, which are championed by Felipe Calderon’s government as a way to cut carbon emissions.
  • The AP reports on Brazil’s deliberations over how to share the profits of newly discovered oil reserves -- how much should go to the federal government, and how much to states close to the oil sites.
  • Argentine media group Clarin has said it will fight the government’s decision to break it up, using all legal means, reports the AP.
  • The Miami Herald reports on court records which show the existence of a migrant smuggling network that took Brazilians to Florida via Paris, London, and the Bahamas.
  • The NYT reports from Mexico City on the plight of the axolotl, an endangered species of salamander, whose loss would “extinguish one of the few natural links Mexicans still have with the city that the Aztecs built.”