Friday, September 13, 2013

Honduras Grants Land to Indigenous Group After 40-Year Struggle

On Thursday, the Honduran government announced that it would be granting titles to more than 1.6 million acres to the five Miskito indigenous communities that live on the Caribbean coast and the border with Nicaragua. The AP reports that the head of Honduras’ National Agrarian Institute, Reynaldo Vega, framed the move as part of the government’s effort to help the Miskito defend the area’s natural resources. “This will allow them to defend themselves against third parties who illegally make use of the area’s natural resources,” said Vega. “Foreign companies that operate in the area will have to talk first to the Miskito community.”

However, this narrative overlooks the Miskito people’s long history of struggle in Honduras. As the New York Times notes, the Miskito have organized over the past 40 years to get the government to recognize their claims to the area, while at the same time clashing with local economic elites in occasionally violent land battles. This struggle intensified in 2010, with indigenous leaders stepping up pressure on the new government of President Porfirio Lobo Sosa.

La Tribuna puts the government’s concession in better context (translated from Spanish):
"With the recognition of the rights of the Miskito to the lands of our ancestors, Honduras has taken a historic step that benefits indigenous peoples around the world," said Norvin Goff, president of the Mosquitia Asla Takanka (MASTA), a political group which represents the Miskito people. 
But this victory has come at a high cost in human lives, and has come at the expense of historical violence that continues today. According to media reports, three Honduran indigenous leaders have been killed in recent days while trying to stop the exploitation of natural resources in their territories. "Today we do not forget our history," said Goff. 
"We do not forget that many of our brothers have been killed defending our forests. We do not forget how hard we fought for decades against corrupt politicians, the big ranchers and drug traffickers, "he said. 
As an example of the violence faced by the Honduran Miskito, many point to the deadly May 2012 drug operation in the Mosquitia region, in which four people were killed. The revelation that Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officers were involved in the incident sparked mass demonstrations, with locals burning down government offices and calling on U.S. drug agents to leave the area.

Just as it has with the land grant story, U.S. press coverage of these protests did a poor job of conveying the political backdrop for these demands. As anthropologist Rosemary Joyce noted after the incident in the Berkeley Blog, much of the reporting about the operation was primarily focused on absolving the DEA of responsibility for the killings. The coverage, Joyce argued, did little to dispel the narrative that the Miskito were “simply drug traffickers responsible for the violence perpetrated against them by their crime of living in their traditional homeland.”

News Briefs
  • On Thursday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro launched a state council aimed at preventing economic “sabotage,” which his administration claims is behind the recent electricity blackout in the country. El Universal reports that the “Superior Organ of the Economy” will begin monitoring private companies involved in producing food and basic goods. According to Reuters, the president also unveiled a new hotline which citizens can call to report acts of economic sabotage, appropriately christened “0-800-SABOTAGE.” 
  • Police in Chile say they have arrested over 260 people in protests marking the anniversary of the September 11, 1973 coup which brought Augusto Pinochet to power, according to La Nacion. The BBC notes that President Sebastian Piñera has called upon judges and prosecutors to deal with them “with severity.” The Economist has an overview of lingering political division in the country, noting that a commemoration ceremony was marked by partisan statements from both the left and right.
  • CIPER, an online journalism organization based in Santiago, Chile, has a harsh critique of popular newspaper El Mercurio’s role in supporting the Pinochet regime. CIPER rips into a recently-published editorial in which the paper applauded itself for contributing “decisively to a peaceful and democratic transition,” noting that El Mercurio has been shown to have contributed to destabilizing the Allende administration, and is accused of covering up atrocities of the dictatorship.
  • Mexican Foreign Minister José Antonio Meade arrived in Havana, Cuba on Wednesday, the visit to the island by a Mexican minister under the Enrique Peña Nieto administration. According to a Foreign Ministry press release, the purpose of Meade’s visit is to discuss improving bilateral ties, as well as their participation in the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). In a statement to reporters on Thursday, Meade said the Peña Nieto hoped to bring “new vigtality” to Mexico-Cuba relations. Americas Quarterly notes that Peña Nieto’s PRI party had historically friendly relations with Havana during its 70-year rule, as Mexico was the only Latin American country to consistently maintain ties with Cuba throughout the Cold War.
  • Salvadoran news site El Faro reports that prosecutors have arrested 18 individuals associated with the so-called “Texis Cartel,” believed to be the most influential criminal network in El Salvador. According to El Faro, if the charges are proven, it will be a clear sign of the extensive political influence that the organization has in the Central American country.
  • The L.A. Times has an overview of Mexico’s teachers’ union protests, which have heated up in recent days after Peña Nieto signed a controversial education reform bill into law. A massive occupation of the main square in Mexico City could be a threat to the country’s traditional “Cry of the Independence” ceremony that is set for Sunday, although it looks as though the teachers’ union has agreed to vacate the square to allow for the event.
  • In the wake of revelations that private communications in Brazil were targeted by U.S. National Security Agency surveillance programs, the country is taking steps to better protect its citizens’ data. Reuters reports that a lawmaker in President Dilma Rousseff’s Workers’ Party is preparing legislation that would force Internet companies operating in Brazil -- like Google, Microsoft and Facebook -- to maintain data centers in the country that would be protected by local privacy law. The news comes as Communications Minister Paulo Bernardo told reporters the government is considering requiring phone companies adopt technology that would complicate foreign espionage efforts.
  • The Colombian government has turned down a petition by the relatives of deceased Colombian druglord Pablo Escobar to have his full name trademarked, El Espectador reports. On Thursday, the Superintendence of Industry and Commerce formally rejected the request, saying it would be immoral and a potential risk to public security to do so.
  • In an interesting column reflecting on the repercussions of Venezuela’s withdrawal from the American Convention on Human Rights, Nelson Camilo Sanchez of the Bogota-based human rights research group Dejusticia argues that there is a chance could be “more of a long ‘see you later’ than a ‘goodbye.’”  Camilo Sanchez points out that this poses a diplomatic challenge for Venezuela for a number of reasons, including that ALBA nations have signed a statement supporting the “universality” of the Inter-American system, as well as the fact that it belongs to Mercosur, which requires recognition of the Convention for membership. He also claims that the governments of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay are uniquely poised to convince the country of the benefits of re-signing the Convention.
  • Washington Post editorial writer Charles Lane takes a critical look at the recent cholera outbreak in Cuba, which he claims is proof that “the revolution’s achievements were never as great as its propagandists claimed and that economic and social conditions on the island trail those of many Latin American countries Cuba once surpassed.”