Category: The South

FROM THE SOUTH will gather the stories and issues taking place in Latin American, and we will give you the analysis and opinion to understand the regional context.

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OUR NEWS section is a mesh of news selection that our editors have put together to keep our readers updated with what is happening in their community, Canada, Latin America and the world. We not only find news coverage from a number of news organizations, but we find our own stories too. We are interested in the stories from below. The stories that not too many people want to tell. We look for stories that are relevant to our community, and tell it how it is, and how it affects us.

Our team consists of a number of local analysts, partner experts, and organizations that support this collaborative effort to bring you a Latin American perspective of current issues.
We are always looking for new partners and opinion makers to add contributions.

If you are one of them contact us at:

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Subject: News

LA DEMOCRACIA DE AMERICA LATINA ESTA EN JUEGO EN HONDURAS

Por: Juan Diego Castro
Noviembre 22, 2013

El Golpe de Estado en Honduras en 2009 fue un golpe contra la democracia en América Latina.

En la mañana de junio 28, 2009, junto con unos amigos canadienses recibimos una llamada impactante de la gobernación de Atlantida, Honduras, ´´El presidente Zelaya ha sido secuestrado por el ejército, y no sabemos qué va a pasar, es mejor que se vayan del país´´.

Esa mañana nos preparábamos para trabajar como observadores internacionales en el plebiscito Cuarta Urna propuesto por el gobierno del presidente Manuel Zelaya, y el cual pretendía convocar una Asamblea Constituyente que modernizaría la carta magna de Honduras de 1982, la cual fue adscrita bajo la dictadura de Policarpo Paz Garcia. En ese tiempo, los Estados Unidos ejercían una gran influencia en el país, el cual verdaderamente veían como su patio trasero, y desde donde se ejecuto la contrarrevolución contra el gobierno Sandinista de Nicaragua.

El día antes del golpe recuerdo ver al General golpista Romeo Vasquez Velazques – egresado de la infame Escuela de las Américas – salir en televisión  diciendo que, ´´no abría una disrupción de la democracia en Honduras´´, y menos de 24 horas después el ejército exilio a Costa Rica al presidente Zelaya.

Nos encontrábamos entonces junto con mochileros de varias partes del mundo, en una situación muy tensa y totalmente inestable a donde el ejército se tomo las calles del país y las noticias pro-golpistas decían en la radio que el golpe había sido muy  bien visto por la comunidad internacional. Sin embargo América Latina unió su voz en desacuerdo al golpe militar y bajo el liderazgo de Brasil y Venezuela se condeno en casi todo el mundo (con excepción de EEUU y Canadá) este acto que recordaba a los golpes militares de los años 60 y 70.

Después de tres días bajo toque de queda,  pudimos salir del país hacia El Salvador desde donde observamos la situación deteriorarse  para los movimientos sociales que apoyaba a Zelaya y cuyas manifestaciones contra el golpe fueron aplastadas a la fuerza.


Este video fue tomado el mismo día del golpe en Progreso, Honduras y se puede observar la presencia militar alrededor de los manifestantes

Los Pecados de Mel

Los elementos más retrogradas de la guerra fría volvieron a salir a la luz con este golpe militar y desde Washington los ¨halcones republicanos¨ junto con los empresarios más ricos de Honduras empezaron una campaña apologista hacia el golpe, argumentando que Zelaya merecía ser expulsado porque quería imponer una dictadura comunista al estilo de Chávez en Honduras.

Pero Mel Zelaya no era el típico ´´dictador´´; Zelaya era uno de los hombres más ricos de Honduras, quien hizo su dinero en ganadería y agricultura. Fue dirigente empresarial de las asociaciones de comercio más grandes de Honduras. Y fue elegido presidente con en el aval del partido Liberal, un partido de centro derecha, en un estado en el que el bipartidismo aseguraba el estatus quo de las familias más poderosas.

El pecado que le cobraron a Zelaya fue traicionar a su clase al aliarse con los más pobres e históricamente explotados, lo cual lo convirtió en el enemigo número uno de la oligarquía y del fundamentalismo cristiano (que abraca una gran parte de la población). Otros “pecados” de Zelaya en sus cortos tres años de gobierno son: mejorar los indicadores de inflación de los últimos 16 años, incrementar el salario mínimo en un 60%, mejorar los programas de protección de los bosques de la región Mosquitia (una de las reservas naturales e indígenas más grandes de Centro América),  integrar el país a PetroCaribe y el ALBA, una alianza  que redujo los precios de los combustibles y subsidio varios programas sociales, recupero empresas publicas que estaban en banca rota y extendió el programa de seguridad social, entre otros.

Se podría decir que Zelaya era un social demócrata, más que un dictador “petite”, que intento crear un estado un poco más justo en un país donde 70% de la población vive en estado de pobreza, pero donde siete familias controlan 40% de la economía del país.

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Honduras: ¨Open for Business¨, pero cerrado a los Derechos Humanos

Tras el golpe de estado, Honduras se convirtió en uno de los países más peligrosos para ser activista político y de derechos humanos, compitiendo por desplazar a países como Colombia de ese trágico ranking. Desde el golpe se han reportaron más de 300 asesinatos extrajudiciales de civiles por parte del estado, al igual que 34 desapariciones y asesinatos de miembros del movimiento políticos de oposición, y 13 asesinatos de periodistas según el Comité para la Protección de Periodistas.

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También se han presentado más de 100 asesinatos selectivos de activistas campesinos que luchan por la defensa de sus territorios contra los mega proyectos que entraron en furor desde que el gobierno ilegitimo de Pepe Lobo impulso la campaña de relaciones públicas, Honduras Open for Business. Esta campaña reunió a inversionistas de 55 países para invertir la industrias de la minería, turismo, represas, maquilas, y en el proyecto neoliberal más escandaloso de las últimas décadas, las llamadas Ciudades Modelo. Este último es como el “sueno húmedo” para Neoliberales. En este prototipo de Ciudad Zona Franca las leyes laborales, tributarias, judiciales o cualquier tipo ley soberana no aplicarían, y hasta los  inversionistas se podrían mudar y vivir dentro de ellas, para ser protegidos por firmas de seguridad privadas contra amenazas indeseadas, como los habitantes del país donde han sido creadas. Esta reunión conto con la presencia de lideres de poca fibra moral como Carlos Slim, Alvaro Uribe y Paul Romer, el arquitecto de las Ciudades Modelo.

Con las cifras de homicidio per cápita más altas del mundo (si! más altas que Venezuela y Afganistán), Honduras no solamente ha invitado inversionistas extranjeros, pero también ahora hacen presencia carteles Mexicanos que operan impunemente por todo el país y los cuales controlan a las Maras (pandillas Centro Americanas). Estos se han convertido en la justificación perfecta para el continuo apoyo militar de Estados Unidos, lo cual termina en desgracias como la masacre de Mosquitia, donde campesinos tildados de narcotraficantes fueron acribillados desde un helicóptero Black Hawk manejado por militares hondureños pero que dirigían entrenadores de la DEA. La situación en Honduras solo empeora cuando un grupo de trabajó de la Naciones Unidas reporta la presencia de Paramilitares Colombianos contratados para proteger fincas, y plantaciones de palma africana de las familias más ricas de Honduras.

La situación de violación a los derechos humanos nunca había sido tan trágica en Honduras desde los  años 80 cuando se libraba la guerra sucia en Centro América, pero se intensifica con la presencia de multinacionales extractivitas, el narcotráfico y la intervención militar gringa.

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La esperanza es LIBRE

Pero de las cenizas de la democracia que dejo el golpe militar, nació un movimiento social y político que sorprendió a los golpistas cuando cantaban triunfo. Al verse reprimidos por la fuerza del estado ilegitimo que les quito su líder y sus derechos a la protesta, la alianza de movimientos sociales que apoyaban al presidente Zelaya, conocido como el Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular, paso una iniciativa dentro de su asamblea para crear una fuerza política que pudiera competir con  los partidos tradicionales Hondureños que apoyaron el golpe de estado. Se dio entonces en el 2011 el nacimiento del partido Libertad y Renovación o Partido LIBRE, en cual reúne la tercera fuerza política más grande del país, y es constituido por sindicatos, organizaciones campesinas e indígenas, estudiantes, el movimiento LGTBI, organizaciones de mujeres, intelectuales, y las fuerzas progresistas disidentes del partido Liberal. El partido LIBRE bajo consenso escogió como su candidata presidencial a Xiomara Castro, la esposa del ex presidente Zelaya, quien desde el golpe militar contra su esposo se convirtió en una figura de unidad y liderazgo entre los movimientos sociales. Y aunque se cree que el apoyo de Castro viene exclusivamente de su esposo, ella ha demostrado ser una lideresa imponente, carismática y con poder de convocatoria, que en las últimas semanas ha movilizado a cientos de miles de personas a las calles.

El partido LIBRE tiene como visión renovar el estado Hondureño el cual dicen que por culpa del capitalismo neoliberal,  ¨hundieron al país en la miseria y la dependencia económica,  destruyeron la producción nacional, endeudaron al Estado hasta llevarlo a la servidumbre, cerraron los espacios políticos a la participación del pueblo y generaron una crisis social sin precedentes en la historia¨.

Para contrarrestar este empobrecimiento democrático el partido LIBRE tiene una agenda de lineamientos de transformación de diez puntos la cual comienza con la todavía controversial, o revolucionaria, idea de ordenar a una Asamblea Nacional Constituyente que sea incluyente y participativa. Otros de los lineamientos importantes son la Transformación Agraria y de Soberanía Alimentaria, La protección y promoción de los derechos humanos, económicos, sociales, y culturales, La integración regional Latinoamericana,  y el fortalecimiento de organizaciones comunitarias y populares, entre otras.

Sobra decir que muchos de estos puntos han sido la base fundamental de varios gobiernos de izquierda que han gobernado o están gobernando exitosamente en Latinoamérica.

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Un triunfo para América Latina

El Golpe de Estado en Honduras en 2009 no fue solo un golpe contra el pueblo Hondureño pero fue un golpe contra la democracia en América Latina. Los retardatarios de la oligarquía Hondureña, y sus aliados en Washington y Colombia intentaron mantenernos en el siglo pasado con su estrategia golpista de miedo y brutalidad.

El ejemplo que nos da el pueblo Hondureño, tras el sufrimiento de los últimos años, es el mensaje de que por medio de la organización y movilización pacífica, los pueblos de América Latina tienen la oportunidad real de gobernar.

Un triunfo del Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular, sería un triunfo para todas y todos en nuestra región, donde cada vez más y más se da la transformación política para las mayorías. Para los que han sido excluidos. Para los que se les niega el poder.

Es ahora nuestro turno de estar vigilantes para que se respete el proceso electoral de este domingo, Noviembre 24, porque en las últimas horas, mientras escribo este artículo se han reportado irregularidades, y amenazas a candidatos, observadores internacionales, y electores.

Pilas con lo que pasa en Honduras, porque ya nos ha pasado aquí en Colombia.

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Fuerzas de seguridad del estado intimidan a observadores internacionales, tomada sábado Nov. 22, 2013

Nota: Para Berta Cáceres, dirigente indígena del COPINH, organización Indígena Lenca de Honduras, quien fue encarcelada por defender su territorio contra un proyecto hidroeléctrico, y para todas las personas que conocimos en Honduras y que no están ahora con nosotros.

Berta Cáceres dirigente indígena, COPINH

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The right to live in peace: a commemoration of Victor Jara and the reality of the Chilean coup

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By Daniel Andrade
September 8, 2013

How many people have to die? How many martyrs do we have to give to the cause before we have the right to live in peace? The Chilean coup that took place on September 11, 1973 is a striking point in our world’s history that clearly demonstrates the real interests of imperialism but more importantly it is a piece of history that can catalyze the conscience and the heart of the people who are crazy (students) enough to think that they can change the world to make it a better place.

Salvador Allende was the democratically elected president of Chile who died during the military coup that overthrew his government on September 11, 1973. “La Moneda”, Chile’s presidential palace was on fire when president Allende died. Nevertheless, he was able to give a last speech to the Chilean people, which is now a big part of Allende’s legacy and in his own words, hopefully not in vain. It’s not a mystery that Nixon’s government and the CIA did everything they could to support the military coup against Allende.

In the process of satisfying their greed and economic interests, the US government helped establish one of the most deadly dictatorships of South American history. The number of victims of the dictatorship of Pinochet runs to  more than 40,000 people, which 3,065 of them are death, thousands more have disappeared, and  hundreds of thousands were forced into exile, between September of 1973 to March of 1990.[1]

¨The coup in Chile has thought us that the primary goal of military imperial US interventions throughout the world is to profit from chaos and satisfy economic interests¨

There have been efforts to undermine the memory of the victims of the coup, but now we have the opportunity to watch The right to live in peace, a documentary on the life of Victor Jara, one of Chile´s most prominent songwriter, musician and social activist. He was tortured and killed during the early days of the dictatorship of Pinochet. The film makes a parallel between the story of Jara and the historical processes carried out the popular movements in Chile before the coup of 1973.

You can demonstrate you care by joining us to the event commemorating 40 years of Chile’s lost democracy. You can watch the film and realize how we, students and young minded people, are the legacy of Jara and Allende. After all they continue to instill courage in us to seek the truth and to not get blinded by authoritarian governments and police states that misinform you. There is also an exhibition gallery of “subversive” newspapers, cassettes, records, etc. you are welcome to come. These were courageously saved for future generations (us!) to learn about the Chilean resistance. Do not be fooled by apologists of the dictatorship and join us this week!


[1] DELANO, Manuel, “Chile reconoce a más de 40,000 víctimas de la dictadura de Pinochet, El País, August 20, 2011, http://elpais.com/diario/2011/08/20/internacional/1313791208_850215.html

 

 86a5bbd87b89ee7f63e607dc7dd293da     THE RIGHT TO LIVE IN PEACE

      WHEN: Friday, September 13th through Friday, September 20th.

      TIME: 7pm opening, Friday 13th. 11- 4pm, Saturday 14th.*11- 9pm, Sunday 15th-Friday             20th.

     WHERE: MEDIUM GALLERY, 870 Dundas Street, London, Ontario.

     ADMISSION: FREE!!for the gallery during the exhibit. $10 / person on opening night on              September 13th, 7 pm. Coffee, fair-trade goods and Chilean refreshments.

    * On Saturday 14th at 7 pm there will also be a film showing at King’s College (The      right to live in peace, about the life of Victor Jara) and Medium Gallery will have     a talk by Chris Stroud about his photographs documenting migrant workers in           SW Ontario.

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Why Chavez Won: An Inside View

By: Lisa Sullivan/SOAW Latina/ October 8, 2012

A few days before the elections, a friend from the states wrote me: “Hi Lisa, all the main stream media down here has Chavez losing and ready to die. Can you give me a more accurate update on the elections?”

My inbox began to fill up with similar inquiries, many from people who I had met when leading delegations here to Venezuela, my home of 27 years.  They were confused, wondering why Chavez was going to lose, die, or steal the elections, or all of the above. Those were, after all, the only stories to be found, countered by that of  the great white hope in the form of a young, skinny opponent (the adjectives repeated ad nausea by the media describe opposition candidate Capriles).

Where, my friends asked, was all that enthusiasm and spirit they had seen here, the one that had transformed this nation into the least unequal spot in all of Latin America, where free university education, health care and cheap food led to  Venezuelans rating themselves as the happiest people on the continent? Had Venezuelans suddenly dropped the most significant political project in Latin America of the past 50 years to suddenly opt for skinniness and youth?

Even NPR set the stage for Venezuelan elections to a backdrop of doom and gloom, as friends notified me in a rush, listening to the Diane Rehm show. For busy and exhausted US citizens just trying to survive via the longest work hours on the planet, they only had time for small sound bites about Venezuela, or any global issue. And these sound bites painted a picture of Venezuela in shades of grey, kind of like those last tottering days of the Soviet empire. Into this scene, rides – or jogs – the youthful skinny Mr. Good to finally chase out the old (age 58) and solidly built Mr. Bad, according to Ms. Rehm and company.

How, then, then to explain yesterday’s street scenes? The ones showing colorfully attired and jubilant Venezuelans standing patiently in huge lines at polling centers, sharing laughs and empanadas with fellow line-mates, indifferent of political loyalties. On the cameras, everyone looked so happy in those long lines, certainly that must mean that they were all voting against Chavez, that evil cancer-ridden old chunky socialist dictator.

But even worse, how to explain the RESULTS?  How to explain how this cruel “strongman” had won robustly with more than 54% of the vote, 10% more than his opponent. Or, that there was a record 81% voter turnout? Well, it must be ……….fraud. That was the other scenario the mainstream media had constantly dangled. But wait, in a few minutes the opposition candidate was on televions himself, accepting defeat, acknowledging the decision of the Venezuelan people and absolute legitimacy of the electoral system. Wasn’t it only Jimmy Carter who was allowed an occasional sound bite that spoke positively about the Venezuelan electoral system (the very best of the dozens his Carter Center has monitored). Wait, this just isn’t going as planned.

So, why? Well, without delving into the messy deep part of that question (think: Iraq and weapons of mass destruction), maybe let’s just touch on some of the easier reasons. In spite of the fact that there were 12,000 journalists in Venezuela covering the elections last night, only a handful  of them seemed to venture far from their 5-star hotels to take a look around the barrios and small rural towns where most Venezuelans actually live. Like I do. Perhaps if they poked around there for a half hour or so, they might discover what’s behind all this love for this madman.

How about, for a start, free health care, and right in your local community?  Well, if you don’t believe those red-shirted socialist Venezuelans occasionally shown on tv pumping their fists at rallies, try listening to a gringa.  A few weeks ago, I returned to Venezuela after a long set of travels interspersed with minor surgery. By the time my flight touched ground at the  Maiquetia airport, my head was pounding and my vision blurring.

The next morning my companero Ledys took me to the local government health post, or, CDI, similar to those found in almost every Venezuelan community.  As I stumbled in, the waters parted and soon I was on a gurney with young Cuban and Venezuelan doctors patiently asking me many questions and examining me. Realizing I was having a reaction to the pain medication that I took for the first time on the plane, I was sent home with new meds and a smile, never interchanging a single id or form of any payment. Within a few hours I was helping friends dig a vegetable garden.  What a contrast to the series of medical appointments I had just undergone in the US, where the first words at a doctor’s office were never “good morning” but, “your insurance card and id”.

But the next day Ledys and I were back at the CDI, albeit in opposite roles. This time is was he with the pain, a raging one, in his lower right abdomen. Ledys was certain that the “socialist” arepas we had eaten the previous day had laid havoc to his gut, as he gulped several down, taking advantage of their rock bottom price. The doctors thought otherwise, especially after doing emergency lab work. The next thing I knew, the same social worker who had helped us the previous day was strolling him by wheelchair into an ambulance and sending me off with a kiss and assurance that we were in capable hands. Within minutes, we arrived at a four-story brand new building in the heart of Petare, one of the most populous and poorest sectors of the country, but I felt that I was back in Washington,  in a state-of-the-art hospital.

But no, this was definitely Venezuela, as I discerned when no id was requested, the only information requested being name and age of patient. By late evening, orderlies called me to the hospital ward where I found Ledys looking happy and pain free after three hours of surgery to rid him of his appendix and hernia (they threw in the second surgery since he was already opened up.) Two days later we were sent home, with meds and follow up instruction. Total bill: $0.

If free health care isn’t enough reason to explain Venezuela’s election results, maybe you can look to the faces of the young people who were jumping up and down last night in front of the presidential palace. For some odd reason, they just didn’t buy the charm of that young skinny candidate, in spite of the fact that he even wore his lucky shoes yesterday (the press just loved that touch). Maybe the reason for their unadulterated joy was the lack of two words in their vocabulary:  student loans.

I found that out when recently I hosted a dialogue been university students from the US and Venezuela at a cultural center that Ledys and I started in the sprawling barrios of Barquisimeto. When I saw the quizzical look on the faces of the Venezuelans as I attempted to translate the term student loans – which the US students were explaining were their main stumbling block to a hopeful future – I realized it wasn’t a question of translation, but of opposing realities. When we began to build this center twenty years ago, we only had two young at the center who had made it to college. Now, among this group of 15 Venezuelan musicians, all between ages 17-20, and all hailing from these barrios, every single one of them was studying at the university. Tuition was free and some even had scholarships to cover food and transportation. Student loans?

As Ledys and I anxiously awaiting the results last night I was getting text messages from my comadre Erika, a young mother of six, and my neighbor.  Erika treats every recent election (and there have been many of them, over 10 in the past decade or so) as a matter of life and death, waiting anxiously with heart-in-hand outside the one polling station in our little town of Palo Verde, the one school building there. When I arrived in this community 15 years ago, the school was just a grade school. In the past ten years, it has doubled in size, and now also functions as a high school by day, on weekends as a free government university, and evenings, as one of the tens of thousands of “mission” schools, run by the government.

Erika grew up having to pick coffee instead of going to school. Three years ago she got her grade school degree from the mission school, and is now well on her way to a high school degree. She is thinking of what to study at the university level, maybe social work. She often repeats to  me: “”comadre, notice how Chavez always says, WE the poor. He is one of us”.

Erika lives in a hand fashioned home of bahereque (waddle and daub) like mine, snuggled in a small community at the end of the town. More than half of the thirty or so homes in our neighborhood are brand new, sporting the before unheard-of  indoor bathrooms and kitchens, all tiled in a lovely sea green.  Erika was part of the community council that helped with the census that determined which families most needed the new homes (mostly, those that squished several nuclear families together under one roof). Others had more need as she acknowledged, so she helped with the process, but remained with her old home.

Funds for 16 homes were dispersed by the government, but the community council managed the funds well enough to build 17 homes.  The instant that the election results were announced Erika called me with joy and tears in her voice: “comadre, we won!”.

I confess, I also felt tears stream down my face. I was holding my computer to the television screen so that my daughter back in Virginia could see the results via skype at the moment they were announced. Her tears joined mine. She remembers all too well growing up in the pre-Bolivarian Venezuela. The one where her friends in the barrio could barely scrape enough to eat, where some had parents who died of lack of health care, where none ever dreamed of going to college. That’s the Venezuela before, the one that the mainstream press never bothers to mention, the Venezuela that led Latin America for the deepest plunge into poverty in the 15 years preceding Chavez.  The Venezuela directed by the IMF and World Bank, two of the main buddies the lucky-shoed candidate promised to usher in again.

After the results, the television screens turned to the scene outside the presidential palace. Did the US mainstream press bother to show that scene?  It was utterly electric. Seas of red-shirted Venezuelans had been waiting for hours for results, and now the moment was theirs as Chavez stepped out onto “the balcony of the people”.  As crowd and president intoned the national anthem together the look of sheer joy on the faces of so many Venezuelans, a nation that saw my children grow and flourish and learn to become  caring people in love with justice, I let my own tears flow.

“Chavez is the people” is the phrase heard over and over here. To those back in the states, how could you possibly understand, there is no real coverage of what happens in Venezuela in the mainsteam media. But to watch that scene, that utter connection, you would also sense that each of these people felt that who they are was being uplifted at that moment : their absolutely dignity, their unalienable right to healthcare, education, housing, food and  above all, a sense that they have the power to determine the direction of their own country All of this was lifted as  high as the stars last night.

The electricity built as Chavez held high above the crowd the sword of Simon Bolivar.  The one mismatch for me and Chavez has always been his military persona, and as a life-time peace activist, the image of a sword isn’t exactly what does it for me, even one gleaming like this in gold and diamonds. But the chant of the crowd as he raised the sword is one that I have heard over and over again  in my recent travels to the length and breadth of this Latin America, a continent that I have lived in and loved for the past  35 years: “alerta, alerta, alerta que camina,  la espada de Bolivar por America Latina” (Alert: The sword of Bolivar is walking throughout Latin America.)

As Chavez held up the sword, he and the crowd swayed as they spoke and cheered that real independence was finally coming to Latin America, a continent increasingly configuring itself as one: UNASUR, ALBA, CELAC, all variations of Bolivar’s dream. The independence that Bolivar won from Spain, via a sword, was now being won again, from a colonizer that took over no sooner than Spaniards had departed: my country.

But this time the sword was indicative of a new form of battle: democracy. The massive enthusiastic and peaceful turnout at Venezuelan polls yesterday is the real story of Venezuelan elections. The fact that deep social change is happening in Venezuela and throughout Latin America, via a ballot box and not bullets, is what I celebrate.

In my travels as Latin America coordinator for the School of the Americas Watch, I have heard too many stories of atrocities, murders, rapes, disappearances, torture at the hands of dictators that we in the US trained and supported. And I don’t just mean in the 60’s and 70’s. I mean in the 2010’s, like in Honduras, where human rights leaders, peasants  and journalists are being murdered right now, today, because of our support for an illegal coup to unseat a president who dared to invite his population to dream the dreams of dignity that flowed in the streets last night, the dreams of Morazan, Central America’s Bolivar.

One final note. There are actually lots of journalists who do take the time to seek out and write about the real story.  They are not to be found in the mainstream press, but they can be found in organizations such as CEPR, the Real News, Venezuelanalysis, the Americas Program, Upside Down World, and many many more.  My saludos to them this morning, how we need you and thank you for rolling up your sleeves, with meager or no budgets, and working late into the night to report the truth. From Venezuela, from the heart of the Bolivarian dream for Latin America, gracias!

 

 

***Lisa Sullivan is Latin America Coordinator for School of the Americas Watch

more information at www.soawlatina.org

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‘Catastrophe': Critics Slam Neoliberal Plan for Privatized Cities in Honduras

By: Common Dreams Staff/Commondreams.org/September 6, 2012

What an official of the rightwing government of Honduras is calling the “most important project in half a century,” critics of the neoliberal plan to build private cities in the Central American nation are calling a “catastrophe” and argue that so-called “chartered cities” would violate the rights of all Hondurans, with particularly negative impacts for the nation’s indigenous population.

President Porfirio Lobo—who came to power in a military coup in 2009—has fully endorsed the proposals to create privately-funded “charter cities” as a way to attract foreign investment to his nation. Details remain elusive, but the experimental cities would be modeled on independently-governed and profit-driven business center cities, so-called “free trade zones” like Dubai or Hong Kong, but would be built virtually from scratch on lands to be determined by the government.

Inspired by US economist advisers—namely US economist Paul Romer, a graduate of the University of Chicago school of economics and currently a professor at the Stern School of Business at NYU—the cities would operate outside the control of the regular Honduran government and have “their own police, laws, government and tax systems.”

Details of the plan remain murky, but the government has already held high-level meetings with possible private investors and the Associated Press reports that the MGK investment group has already promised $15 million to begin construction on the first proposed city.

As the government moves quickly forward, however, opponents have launched legal challenges to the deals and indigineous groups argue that their lands are the target of the government.

As the Associated Press reports:

“These territories are the Garifuna people’s and can’t be handed over to foreign capital in an action that is pure colonialism like that lived in Honduras during the time that our land became a banana enclave,” said Miriam Miranda, president of the Fraternal Black Organization of Honduras.

Oscar Cruz, a former constitutional prosecutor, filed a motion with the Supreme Court last year characterizing the project as unconstitutional and “a catastrophe for Honduras.”

“The cities involve the creation of a state within the state, a commercial entity with state powers outside the jurisdiction of the government,” Cruz said.

The Supreme Court has not taken up his complaint.

The Guardian adds:

… the idea has provoked controversy in a country already suffering from one of the worst levels of inequality in the world.

Critics say it will allow a foreign elite to set up a low-tax, sympathetically regulated enclave where they can skirt labour standards and environmental rules.

“This would violate the rights of every citizen because it means the cession of part of our territory to a city that would have its own police, its own juridical power, and its own tax system,” said Sandra Marybel Sanchez, who joined a group of protesters who tried to lodge an appeal at the supreme court.

Ismael Moreno, a correspondent for the leftwing Nicaraguan magazine Envio, compared the charter cities to the banana enclaves, which were run on behalf of a foreign elite. He also spelled out the environmental risks, particularly if one of the development sites is the Sico valley, an area of virgin forest on the Mosquito Coast.

This model city would end up eliminating the last agricultural frontier left to us,” he wrote.

 

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Pandora or Peru: Resisting the mining multinationals

By: Manuel Barcia/Aljazeera English/August 30, 2012

An indigenous group with a millenarian bond to their land are sitting on large reserves of a precious metal. A massive multinational corporation coming from a foreign land with the intention of getting access to the said metal at whatever cost. A conflict that has left people dead and that has the potential to take even more lives – indigenous lives, of course – destroying the environment in the process.

If the story rings any bells, it is because it does. But you would be forgiven for thinking we are talking about Pandora, and the RDA Corporation’s relentless search for unobtanium under the sacred soil of the Na’vi, in the 2009 film Avatar, directed by James Cameron.

As a matter of fact, we are talking about the Minas Conga project in the region of Yanacocha in Peru, and about the Colorado-based Newmont Mining Corporation’s persistent attempts at removing the local indigenous communities, and changing and contaminating their ancestral landscape in the process, all to expand their gold extraction operations in the area. Sadly enough, the entire world knows about Pandora, but not very many know about Yanacocha.

The new gold rush

With the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008 gold suddenly became one of the most precious commodities in the international markets. Not surprisingly, this led directly to an increase in gold mining worldwide, and to an expansion of the operations – both legal and illegal – of multinational corporations, often with questionable human rights and environmental records.

The case of Newmont is not unique. Other gold mining companies, mostly with headquarters in the US and Canada, have been repeatedly accused of manipulating local politics, of ignoring the interests of local communities standing in their way, and of destroying and polluting the environment across Latin America and other parts of the world.  In neighbouring Colombia, an estimated 5,000 children are now daily engaged in illegal gold mining works often under the most treacherous conditions. Also in Colombia, former paramilitary groups have now eagerly taken on the extraction of this precious metal as a form of supplementing their drug-related incomes. The situation is not much better in Ecuador, where it is only through the fundraising efforts of international NGOs and individuals that the national park of Yasuni and the indigenous communities that inhabit it, have been spared the destruction that open air mining brings.

Barrick Gold, for example, has been accused of dumping toxic substances directly into the riverine system in Porgera, Indonesia. Although the Canadian-based company has been successful in rebutting local demonstrations, the magnitude of the damage caused to the environment has been so noticeable that the Norwegian Pension Fund felt necessary to exclude the company from their investment plans as a penalty. Another Canadian-based company, Gold Corp, has been at the end of similar accusations in relation to Marlin Gold Mine in Guatemala.

Although Newmont is then hardly an exception, what makes it special is their talent in manipulating public opinion. Over the years, they have dodged public demonstrations and have taken on local politicians and community leaders who have questioned their actions in the area.

Newmont also has dubious records in other parts of the world. In the US, they were accused of taking years of questionable tax deductions from the state of Nevada. In Ghana, their invasive Akyem project, for which they were given the 2009 Public Eye “Hall of Shame” award, led to accusations of the destruction of unique natural habitats, the pollution of soils and rivers, and the displacement and resettlement of people. All facts that Newmont, naturally, dispute.

Minas Conga project

Newmont’s involvement in Yanacocha is not new. One of the two largest and more productive gold mines in the world, with a number of open pits across approximately 25,000 hectares of this Peruvian region, the potential of extracting yet more gold in Yanacocha is not to be overlooked.

For almost two decades, Newmont has linked up with Peruvian companies, including Minas Buenaventura, to extract gold from the soil of Cajamarca region, where Yanacocha is located. Daily dynamite blasts loosen the rock, which is then sprayed with a solution of cyanide. The process, predictably, is far from being environmentally friendly, producing a number of contaminant agents, including mercury, cadmium and arsenic.

Although Newmont’s own environmental impact assessment states that their projects are not causing irreparable damage to the local ecosystems, their opinion is questionable, especially in light of their previous record in the area.

Back in June 2000, one of Newmont’s trucks spilled between 80 and 151kgs of mercury just outside the village of Choropampa. The locals, completely unaware of the danger and thinking they had found some valuable metal, gathered the mercury and took it to their homes. Only a few days later, between 50 and 70 residents, including several children, showed symptoms of mercury poisoning and had to be hospitalised. Newmont, predictably, denied failing to inform the locals about the accident and the danger they had been exposed to.

These early signs caused the locals to distrust the Newmont and helped to create a state of awareness that was recently revived when the Minas Conga project was approved. Newmont also failed, at least initially, to recognise the local population as indigenous in their 1999 environmental impact study. By doing so, they probably hoped to get around Peru’s strict legislation protecting indigenous communities from enterprises such as theirs.

The escalation of the conflict in the past year is a result of a plan to open a new pit with disastrous consequences for the indigenous communities and for the local ecosystem. Particularly problematic has been the idea of drying out four lagoons and replacing them with four water reservoirs, a move that would certainly lead to increasing problems with drinking water supplies and to the extermination of the flora and fauna in the lagoons. There are well founded fears that the soils in the region may never be fertile again and that the contamination may even reach the Maranon river, an important affluent of the Amazon.

Given that, according to Newmont’s own assessment, the mining industry has hardly brought any improvement to the locals in the area before, the new project has understandably been received with fierce resistance.

Rather than engaging openly with the indigenous communities, who have lived in the region for millennia, Newmont has lobbied the government, accused local politicians of opposing Newmont’s interests, and has even gone so far as to dismiss opposition to the project as emanating mostly from the most uneducated portion of the communities.

The future

The series of demonstrations that began last year against Newmont’s Minas Conga project has, for now, ushered encouraging results for the locals. The Peruvian government has recently come to the realisation that the conflict associated with the project is having an adverse effect on local businesses in the area, and has agreed to call it off, at least for now.

A recent poll conducted in the Cajamarca region showed that 78 per cent of the people opposed it. Only a few days ago, Diario Correo, one of the main newspapers of Peru referred to the project as “dead” and “collapsed”. It seems that the communities, as in Avatar, have won the first round.

Nevertheless, as in Avatar, sequels are likely to happen. All that gold won’t be sitting there for long without greedy multinationals attempting to extract it, even against the will of the local populations. By all the means available to them, they must remain alert for the time when the big machines show up again.

Manuel Barcia is Deputy Director at the Institute for Colonial and Postcolonial Studies at the University of Leeds.

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